BY KRISTI FISH | MIRROR REPORTER — Maumee Police Depart-ment cadets Melissa Echler and Chase Keller have each attended the Ohio State Highway Patrol Academy and both graduated earlier this month.
It marked the first time a Maumee police cadet has attended the academy since 2007.
After approximately five months of rigorous work since February, the two are back in Maumee and ready to continue their journey toward becoming Maumee police officers, and Echler has brought back with her a high honor from the academy.
For her achievements in four categories – academics, physical fitness, driving and firearms – Echler was named the Top Cadet.
She is the first female to receive the distinction in the history of the academy.
“She pushed herself and she got herself through it,” said Maumee Assistant Police Chief Mike Love. “The first female to ever do it? That’s amazing.”
A mother of two young girls, Echler said she hopes her daughters learn from her that if they want something, they should continue to push themselves to achieve that goal.
Earning the distinction was not easy for Echler. The academy was more physically demanding than she had been initially prepared for, so she found herself working extra hard during her time off to become the best she could be.
“Every break we had, every opportunity we had, I was working in my room, just trying to make myself better,” Echler said.
Several of the other cadets also helped to motivate her throughout the process.
“I made a really good friend down there; she’s actually going to work for BGSU police. She was super physically fit, so she inspired me a lot, to just keep going,” Echler added.
During difficult days, Echler also knew that her future coworker, Keller, was around to help provide motivation if needed.
“It was nice to know that we were down there together. We each had our own bad days, and even though we didn’t know each other that well, we were there to make sure the other one was doing OK and encourage each other,” Echler said of Keller.
Prior to leaving for the academy, Keller and Echler had been able to sit down with Love and learn helpful information on what to expect.
Love was the last person from Maumee to attend the academy in 2007, so he warned them of the mental and physical demands of the training.
According to Love, the course can feel like a mini boot camp at times. Cadets spend Monday through Friday at the academy, with limited phone access during the week. They have set schedules and don’t get to return home until the weekend to see their family and friends.
“I give them a lot of credit. It’s a long process,” Love said of Echler and Keller completing the training in Columbus.
Now that the two are back, they have more work to do before they’ll be patrolling the streets of Maumee on their own.
“After they’re done with the academy, they have to come back here and they start an FTO program, which is a field training operations program, which we’re in right now,” Love explained. “It’s around 20 weeks of training where they’ll go to different shifts for patrol, and they spend around 20-22 days for daily observation reports per trainer, and they have certain criteria they have to meet.”
Over time, the responsibilities shift from trainer to trainee. By the end, a trainer will only get involved if absolutely necessary in order to determine if the new officers are able to be on their own.
If all goes according to plan, Echler and Keller can expect to be on their own in mid-December, ending the training they started back in February; but for now, they’re hard at work in field training.
“What Chief (Josh Sprow) and I stress the most (during FTO) is to continue to be active. This is your learning portion when you get to field training. This is where you learn how Maumee does it, and this is where you make your mistakes, so you can learn from those mistakes and move forward and do better,” Love said.
It’s important, though, for the officers to learn how to quickly reset their minds and prepare for the next call, too, he said.
That advice mirrors what Echler was told by an instructor in the academy during the driving week, she said. The instructor told the students to be like a goldfish, with a short memory.
The instructor wanted to instill in the cadets that they could not dwell on mistakes and to move forward to continue helping the community.
Once Echler is on her own, she looks forward to being out in the community and making connections with everyone.
It’s what she’s loved about her other positions with the Maumee Fire Department and as a school bus driver, she said.
“I love doing community outreach. We did that a lot with the fire department. We have really good services here in Maumee. I think we have really good relationships between the departments and the community,” Echler said.
To help her continue her outreach and to make connections with the young residents of Maumee, Echler said she hopes in the future she’ll be able to be a school resource officer.
“I love Maumee and I want to do more to keep the community what it is. Ultimately, a goal for me is that my kids want to stay here in the future. If it’s the community that I grew up in here when I was a kid, hopefully they will want to stay here because they’ll appreciate it like I always have,” Echler said.
The public service aspect of the job is her favorite part, she said, and part of the reason she knew it would be worth it to make the switch for her career.
All of the cadets had to answer the question at the academy: Why do you want to be a police officer?
At the beginning, Echler said, her statement was generic: She cares about the community, and she wants to serve the residents.
Over time, it changed.
“I want to be a good role model for my girls,” Echler stated.
At times, the job can be hard, she noted, so it’s important to know why she is doing it and to remind herself of that occasionally.
Having those reminders can make the struggles in the field and at the academy worth it, she said.
There was no shortage of struggles, either, both physically and mentally. Keller and Echler’s class started with 47 students before ending with 40 at graduation.
“You have to be determined and have the work ethic to make sure you are successful, and they were,” Love said.