When Lexington-Fayette Animal Care and Control Sgt. Nichole Gibson heard the police department was hiring, she jumped at the chance to become a member of the first recruit class in more than two years.
"When I did animal control, that kind of gave me a little taste of law enforcement, and I loved it," she said. "When an opening came available, I was like, 'Let's go for it."
More than 800 people applied but only 27 recruits were hired. Gibson was among the 27 who began orientation Tuesday and soon will start a difficult 11-month training process.
Mayor Jim Gray, Public Safety Commissioner Clay Mason and the entire police command staff welcomed the recruits enthusiastically during a brief introduction ceremony Wednesday at the police training center on Old Frankfort Pike.
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The new officers were hired using a $3.9 million federal grant that will pay the salaries of 25 officers for three years. Twenty-seven recruits were hired to account for attrition — typically several recruits drop out during the sometimes grueling training process.
The group is the most diverse class in recent years, police Chief Ronnie Bastin said.
"We're extremely excited about this group of individuals. They bring a lot to the table," Bastin said. "They're probably the most diverse group ... that I have ever seen, and I've been here quite some time."
About 20 percent of the recruits are minorities, and five are women. By comparison, there was one female recruit hired in the last class in 2009.
Two thirds of the recruits have college educations, and several hold master's degrees, police said. Several have lived, studied or traveled abroad and are bilingual.
"We are proud that this class, from a diversity standpoint, is representative of the Lexington population," police spokeswoman Sherelle Roberts said.
Gibson has a master's degree in public health and environmental health science from Eastern Kentucky University.
Recruit Alejandro Zaglul, a native of Argentina, said he had lived in England and Qatar before coming to Lexington to complete a degree in applied cultural anthropology from the University of Kentucky.
Jeff Brangers worked for 16 years at Toyota Motor Manufacturing, recently serving on a team that gave a presentation in Japan on best practices to be implemented worldwide.
Gibson, Brangers and Zaglul all said they took the job for two reasons: to help their community and to be challenged.
"I wanted something that was physically and mentally challenging, and at the end of the day, I will be happy in what I have done," Zaglul said.