HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – A bagpiper led the procession of cadets onto the stage at Bishop McDevitt High School Friday morning.
He provided the pomp as the 144th cadet class graduated from the Pennsylvania State Police Academy.
But there was even more circumstance that led to a historically diminished number of graduates. Just 48 cadets became troopers from a class that started with 116 enrollees in September. A few dozen have been dismissed amid a cheating scandal that ravaged the ranks of the 144th.
PSP Commissioner Tyree Blocker accentuated the positive during his remarks and said this day was for celebrating the four dozen who survived the scandal, but he alluded to the cheating, albeit briefly.
“The self-respect you displayed and the honor and character you employed by not taking an easy path will forever mark you as a remarkable men and women,” Blocker said.
The troopers were sworn in and the ceremony, as always, included lots of salutes, handshakes, and smiles. Cheating by others could not dampen the pride of the graduates and their families, who erupted in applause several times during the graduation.
“He’s always wanted to be a state trooper,” said Dominic Picerno II of his son, Dominic III. “When I came on the force, he was only 3 years old and he walked around with a belt and put things in it thinking it was a baton and gun.”
Dominic III, the newly minted trooper, would only say this about being in the most scrutinized class in academy history: “It’s been a great honor. That’s all I want to say, sir.”
Dominic II, a corporal, was a little more forthcoming.
“I had confidence in my son that he would make right decisions when he was in there,” he said of his son. “I’m very proud of him here today and his accomplishment.”
A diminished class comes at a terrible time for PSP. Blocker concedes that fewer recruits, expected swelling retirements and an increased demand for PSP services from communities who abandon their own police departments are a concern, but he insists his agency will still be able to get its job done.
In fact, he professed his PSP pride following the graduation and bristled when asked if the cheating scandal tarnished the state police’s brand.
“It’s not a blow,” Blocker said forcefully. “There are no criminal allegations here. These are administrative allegations. We will address them and address them comprehensively. I think we do a disservice when we try to insist that this is something scandalous. This will make us a better law enforcement agency moving forward.”
Blocker said the PSP investigation into cheating at its academy continues. The state’s Office of Inspector General is also conducting an investigation.
One cadet who was set to graduate was pulled back to the academy between Thursday night and Friday morning. His photo was in the program. Blocker said he, and about 13 others, are in limbo right now. They may be cleared of cheating and graduate with the 145th class in June, he said, or they could be dismissed.