A former reporter and a University of Southern Mississippi football player walk onto a shooting range at the Laurel Police Department Training Facility.
It’s not the setup for a joke, but rather two of the six Laurel Police Department recruits who are preparing for the Regional Public Safety Institute at Camp Shelby this week.
The recruits are leaving for the academy April 11, Laurel Police Chief Tommy Cox said, and if they all make it through, will bring his total force to 52 officers.
For the past four weeks, the recruits weathered intensive pre-academy training — from tactical shooting, learning laws in the classroom and enduring two hours of physical training each day — to prepare for the three-month training school.
The class of recruits have diverse backgrounds, from a former USM/NFL football player, retail worker and a reporter.
The LPD’s hiring process entails a physical test, written exam and interview before pre-academy training begins. Laurel Police candidates Xavier Thigpen, Porsche Dyer, Devin Craven, James Gieger, Jack Hammett and Shaymira Morgan made the cut of LPD’s recent call for new hires.
Hammett said he wasn’t expecting how challenging the pre-academy training would be, but felt it was worth it.
“Both my brother and father are veterans, and I felt the same call to serve,” Hammett said. “Chief Cox and Chief Bruce Russell at the Ellisville Police Department are heroes to me. Working as a reporter, I would see what they and their officers did, like taking drugs off the street. It’s just fantastic.”
Going from Leader-Call reporter to cop, Hammett said the transition has not been too hard.
“What I liked about journalism was going places, meeting people and seeing different things everyday,” Hammett said. “I didn’t want to get another job where I wasn’t doing that. A big part of it, for me, was being at a job that was out in the community.”
Football may have always been an in-road for Thigpen, but he always kept the door open to law enforcement by studying criminal justice at Southern Miss. Before joining the LPD, Thigpen worked in construction.
“I don’t feel like this is work because this is my calling,” Thigpen said. “I felt the transition was easy because it’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was little.”
Thigpen said the police physical training is harder than football training due to the amount of running.
“I’m not a distance runner,” Thigpen said. “The pushups, the sit-ups are easy, but the six-mile runs, that’s not me.”
This is one of the strongest classes Cox has seen in physical training and he expects 100 percent of the recruits to pass the academy.
“This is a team effort, and if we only graduate five, then it is a failure,” Cox said. “This is their third week of training. They will be head and shoulders above their average cadet.”