By STEVEN NALLEY
Brandon Hernandez had two family members at the Starkville Police Department before he joined SPD himself. His brother-in-law, Jonathan Headley, and his wife, Gabrielle Hernandez, are both officers with SPD, but he said that did not mean those two played a role in recruiting him.
“I think I actually played a role in recruiting my wife when she came (to SPD). It’s something she wanted to do. I encouraged her strongly to join whenever they had a position open,” Brandon said. “I was actually in the National Guard (at that time). I had to deploy, so I didn’t want to have to deploy and have to leave (after joining the police). I just got back in October from Afghanistan. It was Iraq before that.”
Hernandez is one of four new police officers Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman swore in Tuesday morning at City Hall, bringing with them varying experiences, backgrounds and skills.
SPD Lt. Mark Ballard said the swearing-in was just the beginning for the first-time officers among these recruits. He said they would attend training from the Southern Regional Public Safety Institute March 31 through June 6, but so far, they had proven to be strong recruits.
“This is a very talented bunch,” Ballard said. “These four were hired out of an excess of 60 applicants. One of the more important aspects of the department is to hire good, dependable people. That’s what we’ve got with these individuals.”
Hernandez, a Baton Rouge, La. native, said his family brought him to Starkville. He began working with the U.S. military in Starkville in 1998, he said, starting with the Marine Corps and then joining the National Guard.
“(I joined SPD because) I wanted structure, just like the military,” Hernandez said. “And, I want to help the citizens.”
Ballard said Hernandez was not the only new officer with fellow police in the family. He said new SPD officer Jace Dawsey’s father is Picayune Police Department Chief Bryan Dawsey, and Jace comes to SPD with training academy certification already in hand and more than one year of experience as a PPD officer. Jace said he would attend Mississippi State University while working with SPD.
“(I am here) to serve and protect the community,” Jace said. “(I transferred to SPD) just to veer away from Picayune for more opportunities.”
Stephanne Johnson said she was a first-time officer, but she was no stranger to SPD, having spent three years as an SPD dispatcher beforehand. She came to Starkville eight years ago from Webster County after graduating from French Camp Academy, she said.
“I like the atmosphere of Starkville better than just about any other town,” Johnson said. “I feel like I can do more on the street than I can in the office. It definitely fits my personality and my abilities. Working with officers, I was able to see that.”
Pedro Yera said he came all the way from Massachusetts for his first officer job with SPD. He came to Starkville when his fiancee began pursuing a degree with MSU, he said, and he had wanted to become a police officer since he was young.
“I wanted to help individuals become better and help the environment to become a better place by keeping people off the streets,” Yera said. “I hope I make Starkville a better place. I hope we can all do that.”
Ballard said Yera was also fluent in Spanish, which had already benefitted SPD by helping it break language barriers. Together, he said, he believed these four new officers can make a difference.
“They’re quality guys... the right people for long-term stability,” Ballard said.