Special to The Daily Journal
HAMLET – Heather Wyatt wears a badge to work that signifies her duty to protect and serve the community.
As a Hamlet police officer, Wyatt also wears a gun, handcuffs and a Taser on her hip — tools of the trade that she’s been well trained to use. Being a police officer is not a career the petite young blond woman planned to pursue, but once she got a taste of law enforcement, she knew that’s where she wanted to do.
Wyatt is a graduate of Richmond Community College’s Basic Law Enforcement Training (BLET) program, which equips students with the essential skills required for entry-level employment as law enforcement officers with state, county, municipal governments or private enterprise. The course is mandatory across the state for anyone pursuing a career as a law enforcement officer.
A change in plans
A native of Rockingham, Wyatt was in school at the University of North Carolina-Pembroke working on a double major in criminal justice and sociology when she applied for an internship with the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office.
“I never though about being a police officer even though I was studying criminology. I thought I’d go the route of law school,” Wyatt said. “Interning with the Sheriff’s Office, however, I discovered I really liked being out and about and working with the public as a police officer. I really liked the freedom and independence of the job.”
Even before graduating UNC-Pembroke with a bachelor’s degree in August 2012, she enrolled in the BLET program at RCC. The class meets in the evenings for eight months and includes up to 740 hours of classroom instruction, plus physical training, firearm use and safety, and defensive and tactical driving.
Director of public safety for RCC’s Workforce and Economic Development division, Chip Osborne said students spend a lot of time learning about law.
“They learn all kinds of different laws: ABC (alcohol beverage control) law, criminal law, constitutional law, juvenile law, motor vehicle laws, arrest, search and seizure laws – all these laws they have to know,” Osborne said.
Instruction also includes ethics, report writing, investigative skills, emergency response, court procedures, communication skills, and public relations.
“We have really good success with Richmond and Scotland County agencies hiring our BLET graduates,” Osborne said. “We may be small but we’ve got a top-notch program.”
To receive a certificate, students must successfully complete and pass all units of study, which include the certification examinations mandated by the North Carolina Criminal Justice Education and Training Standards Commission and the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Education and Training Standards Commission.
A nontraditional career
Wyatt earned her BLET certificate in October and was hired by the Hamlet Police Department in November. With a year under her belt patrolling the city of Hamlet, Wyatt still gets excited to put on her uniform every day and prepare for a 12-hour shift that is often spent working alone. Despite being in a nontraditional career, Wyatt has not experienced any disadvantages in her job as a female police officer.
“It’s all about how you present yourself, and people will respect you. I have had no problems on the street or the people I work with,” Wyatt said.
While Wyatt enjoys being a police officer, she also plans to explore other career opportunities with law enforcement agencies such as probation and parole, license and theft, corrections, alcohol and drug, or border patrol. She has also considered going back to school and getting a master’s degree in public administration.
For now, however, Wyatt will continue to fulfill her duty to protect and serve the people of Hamlet.
Join the Force
RCC’s next BLET program will begin March 3. Application packets are due before class starts, and space is limited. For application information, call Myra Locklear at 910-410-1700 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.