Each of these three Covington Police Department recruits graduated at the top of their class from the Northeast Georgia Police Academy in Athens and are recipients of the Franklin Thornton Academic Award for Excellence. They are (l-r) Officer Kara Hipps, Officer Starr Gibbs and Officer April Combs. - Special photo
COVINGTON -- It seems every time recruits from the Covington Police Department receive basic training from the Northeast Georgia Police Academy in Athens, they graduate at the top of their class. Or, at least, that's the way it's been happening lately with three female officers successively placing No. 1.
"I'm very proud of these three young ladies," said CPD Chief Stacey Cotton. "One of the hardest things to do is recruit quality employees, much less females who want to do this job and we've found three very educated women who want to be part of the Covington Police Department."
Each of the recruits was awarded the Franklin Thornton Academic Award for excellence in recognition of their achievement.
Setting the bar for the recruits who would follow was Officer April Combs, who graduated with honors with an overall GPA of 94.46. She said from the beginning of the 11-week course, it was her goal to graduate at the top of her class.
Combs, as are the other two award-winning recruits, is a graduate of Covington's Eastside High School. Before going to work for the CPD, she worked for the Georgia Department of Corrections with their pre-release program, helping those with HIV/AIDS to transition back into the community.
Combs said she wanted to become a law enforcement officer because of the variety it offers.
"It's not our typical profession. It's not like I'm going to come in and staple papers together ... it's something different every time. Every call you go to, you don't know what you're getting into," she said.
She is in the Uniform Patrol division and works from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., a shift she admits takes some getting used to.
"You have to adjust your body, but nighttime is a different beast," she said, adding that the calls she goes to are different from those encountered by officers working during the day. "I like to say, by nighttime people have had enough time to get drunk," she said.
Her biggest challenge during basic training was the Emergency Vehicle Operating Course.
"You have to do the cone course, the braking course. For me it was the most challenging, but it was also the most fun," she said.
Combs graduated in February of 2011 from a class that began with 30 recruits and ended up with 22 and has been a road officer since that time.
Officer Kara Hipps had worked in the dental field for 10 years before she took the plunge to make her dreams of becoming a police officer come true in August of 2011.
"It's always been a dream that was put on hold for a little while, but I finally did it. I love it," she said, adding that she was originally inspired by her DARE teacher, CPD Lt. Paul Dailey.
She said her favorite part of working as a CPD patrol officer is the camaraderie.
"We're our own little family and we're all close and look after each other," she said.
She said if she had to pick a negative thing about her job, it was probably the hours, but she stopped short of saying that working the night shift was "bad."
She said during her basic training at the police academy it was the time commitment.
"My poor husband did not have a wife for 11 weeks ... I came hope, studied, got a bite to eat, went to sleep and got up and did it again," she said.
She's been on the road since November and she, too, enjoys the variety of her job.
"All the calls are challenging. They're all different. You never know what to expect," she said. "As time has gone on I've gotten more confident, not that it gets any easier, but you are better prepared to handle it."
Hipps graduated with honors with an overall GPA of 91.01 out of a class that began with 31 students and ended with 26.
When Starr Gibbs was hired in January, she knew she had her work cut out for her.
"One of the very first things Chief Cotton ever said to me was, 'Our last two recruits got the academic award. Do you think you can do that?'" she recalled. "I said I believe I can, and he said, 'Then, OK. Welcome to the Covington Police Department.'"
She said everyone was cheering her on as she graduated with an overall GPA of 97.68 on March 23 from a class that began with 32 students and ended with 30 graduates.
"They've done it in a fun way, but there was a lot of encouragement," she said. "They took a chance on me, a big chance. I felt like I was there working for everybody."
Gibbs said she is following in her father's footsteps, who is also a law enforcement officer.
"I've always been a daddy's girl," she said.
She first went to college to become a nurse.
"I got as far as my clinicals and decided that wasn't what I wanted to do," she said, adding that she worked as a 911 dispatcher and in the jail in another county before she landed the job with CPD.
"I think the best thing about being here is the support system you have, especially from these two," she said, pointing to Combs and Hipps. "Anything I've ever needed, they've been really awesome in supporting me."
She said her biggest challenge at the police academy was finding time to study."I felt like that was the only thing I ever did. They had big shoes for me to fill. That was pretty much all I ever did," she said.
CPD Capt. Ken Malcom said having three top graduates on the force was akin to having three members of an all-star team.
"We've got the brightest of the last three classes all coming to us, and we're very fortunate to have that," he said. "Hopefully, they will be here a number of years and serve the citizens well. We look forward to watching them grow."