DANVILLE — On Sept. 11, 2001, Rocky Thornton was in his P.E. class at Oakwood High School when someone burst into the gym with an announcement: One of the World Trade Center’s twin towers had been hit.
When Thornton got to his second-hour class, a TV was on. He and his classmates were stunned to see a plane fly into the second tower.
Though not yet 18, Thornton decided that day he wanted to join the military — and eventually have a career — where he could serve and protect his country and community.
On the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Navy veteran and five others — Joshua Bishop, Chase Whorrall, Cole Comrie, Tyler Starkey and Bailey Crose — were sworn in as probationary Danville police officers.
At the swearing-in ceremony, Mayor Rickey Williams Jr. told friends, family members, fellow police and firefighters who packed the city council chambers it was historic day for the country — and Danville.
“Eighteen years ago, we were attacked, and so many first responders gave their lives to help others,” he said. “Today, we swore in six officers who also made the commitment to help others and go so far as to lay down their lives to save others if need be.”
In a few days, the recruits will start 14 weeks of training at the University of Illinois’ Police Training Institute. Upon graduation, they’ll go through 15 weeks or more of field training back home.
“The earliest would be in late April,” Chief Chris Yates said of when they’ll hit the street on their own.
The hirings, along with one in April and another in May, bring the force to 63 officers, meaning it’s fully staffed. Over the past several years, that number decreased as members retired or left for other reasons, and most weren’t replaced.
As a result, officers — who work a minimum of 42.5 hours a week, per their contract — have been putting in 60 hours or more a week “easily,” Yates said.
“This will alleviate the need for a tremendous amount of overtime,” the mayor agreed, adding that will save “tens of thousands of dollars. ... It will also allow us to use our overtime more strategically. Instead of just hiring people back to fill in because someone is on vacation or sick, we’ll be able to hire them back for special operations.”
Yates said the department is looking forward to reinstating the Problem Oriented Policing Unit, hopefully on May 1.
“It’s a specialized, proactive unit that mitigates the challenges faced by our community,” Yates said, adding it will have four veteran members.
“They will get out there and work nonstop to identify problems and address them,” he continued, referring to gun violence and drug activity, among other things. “They will be very tied in with the community, meeting with them, listening to them and celebrating with them when their problems are mitigated.”
Yates said he and his staff have also been developing two more specialized units set to roll out around the same time.