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Meter reader first to apply for police academy deal

A Zephyrhills program offers city employees the chance to be trained as officers and receive a paycheck.

By BRADY DENNIS

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 27, 2000


ZEPHYRHILLS -- Billy Adams is preparing for change.

If things go as planned, he'll soon be trading in his muddy boots, jeans and Tampa Bay Buccaneers cap for a dark blue uniform.

He'll likely trade in his 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. job for the graveyard shift.

And he'll swap days of reading water meters for the city of Zephyrhills for 17 weeks at the Pasco-Hernando Police Academy in Gower's Corner.

All of that's fine with Adams. The way he sees it, he has a shot at trading predictability for excitement.

Adams was the first applicant for a new Zephyrhills program that allows city employees who want to become Zephyrhills police officers the chance to attend the 17-week academy while still receiving a paycheck.

"When I heard about it, I jumped on it," said Adams, 28, who grew up in Zephyrhills and has worked for the city about four years. "There was no way I could have gone on my own. I would have had to quit my job.

"Now that they're going to back me, it's the perfect time. It's a win-win situation."

The program, passed Dec. 11 by the City Council, is meant to help cure the police department's recruiting woes. Only one other person, public works employee Mike Barnes, has applied so far.

By recruiting local people with ties to the community, Zephyrhills Police Chief Robert Howell hopes to hire officers who won't run off for more lucrative jobs at other departments.

"Billy is local, he's working for the city and he's not going anywhere," Howell said. "If it's successful, I think when he goes to work for us, he'll stay here with us for 25 years."

Adams said the main reason he wants to become a police officer is to help people.

But he admits with a smirk that he's in it for some excitement, too.

He got a glimpse of police life recently when he rode along one night with a friend who's an officer with the Lakeland Police Department.

"I saw crack for the first time," Adams said. "And we got in a car chase. When you get 15 cars and a helicopter chasing somebody, it's an adrenaline rush.

"That pretty much did it for me."

Adams' annual salary with the utilities department is $20,711. Starting pay for a new Zephyrhills police officer is more than $26,000. But he insists his switch is about the thrills, not the pay increase.

"I'm not in it for the money," he said, "I'm in it for the job."

City Manager Steve Spina has helped Adams with his application to the program, making sure that everything is set come January, when the academy begins.

"Billy is the kind of employee this program is designed for," Spina said. "He's from here, he wants to stay in town and he's a good employee. He's the kind of employee we want to keep.

"Not only does this help him, it enriches us."

Adams' current supervisor, Nathan Coleman, said it won't be the same if Adams leaves.

"He's a good guy, I'm going to miss him," Coleman said. "But I told him if that will make him happy, that's what he needs to do. It will be a step up for him."

Still, it's not a done deal. Applicants have to pass an aptitude test, a psychological evaluation and an oral interview at the police department before being cleared for the program.

Even then, Adams knows the academy won't be a breeze. But he is determined.

"I'm going to bust my butt to get through it, and I know I will," he said. "I know it's going to be tough, and it should be tough. But I'm ready."

- Brady Dennis can be reached at 352-521-5757, ext. 23, or dennis@sptimes.com.

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