By Joe Iorio and Lenis Rodrigues, Media Relations Staff
Pride and devotion to service are characteristics that have defined generations of Port Authority Police Department officers. At a solemn early morning ceremony Wednesday at the 9/11 Museum, members of the new class of PAPD recruits were reminded of those attributes as they received police shields and identification cards, ahead of their graduation Friday from the Police Academy.
The ceremony was doubly significant because it was the first time a PAPD class had the opportunity to mark their entry into the Department at a special World Trade Center event to honor 37 PAPD officers who perished in the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.
For PAPD recruits Kara Schmidt and Thomas Leather, the memory of 9/11 is all too familiar.“I was in my 7th grade technology class when my teacher brought a TV into our classroom,” said Schmidt, whose father was a Port Authority cop and 9/11 first-responder. “I actually watched the second tower get hit and in my mind, all I could think about was my Dad. I didn’t see him for a few months afterwards because he was part of the cleanup. It was about six or seven months where I saw him sporadically.”
Schmidt’s father, William “Billy” Schmidt, entered the Police Academy on June 27, 1994 and 24 years later, with her mother in attendance, Schmidt received the badge number and shield of her late father, who died eight years ago.
Asked about what the ceremony meant to her, Schmidt replied, “It means everything to me – I’m honored and I feel blessed to be here. To have his badge number, to be able to wear that and represent him and the department — words can’t describe what it means to me.”
Leather told a similar story of his father, a 32-year PAPD veteran and 9/11 first-responder who was on hand yesterday to present his son with his shield.“I was in eighth grade and I went home to my mother crying,” said Leather. “My dad was in the pipe band. So, he lost a few members that day. My dad had to play at all of the funerals. Just watching that and seeing him be so strong through it all really inspired me to continue down this path. He was my role model. My father is who I want to be.”
In the auditorium, Port Authority Chief Security Officer John Bilich and PAPD Police Superintendent Edward Cetnar delivered sobering remarks to the new class, reminding them of their duty to protect the region and act responsibly while upholding the legacy of officers who’ve served before.
“We welcome these dedicated, highly trained police officers to the Port Authority Police Department, where they will now take on the challenge of protecting the traveling public,” Bilich said. “During the past six months, these new officers have received some of the most extensive training of any police agency in the country, and we look forward to having them join our team.”
Following the indoors ceremony where the recruits were sworn in and given their shields, the class gathered at the South Pool and honored the fallen officers by placing 47 roses where their names are inscribed on the memorial. In addition to the 37 victims of 9/11, 10 other PAPD officers have lost their lives in the line of duty. Cetnar was joined by police recruits Kenneth Dietrich and John Kinzel in laying a wreath at the site.
The graduating class of 112 comprises 93 men and 19 women, including 77 college graduates, seven military veterans and 10 “legacy” recruits with relatives who currently or previously served as PAPD officers. The formal graduation is scheduled for tomorrow at the Dunn Sports Center in Elizabeth, N.J.