Recruits Derrick Perryman, Roddy Howell, Vanessa Berry, and Mike Roberts are all set to
graduate from the BPD academy this December 9. They pose for a picture at the police range
in Trussville, Ala., Monday, November 21, 2011. Some of their fathers served in the BPD
together, and three even graduated from the same academy.(The Birmingham News/Tamika Moore)
But only because the blue of the Birmingham
Police Department uniform courses through their veins.
Vanessa Berry, 24; Roddy "Trey" Howell III, 21; Derrick Perryman Jr., 22;
and Michael Roberts Jr., 26, are members of the current class at the Birmingham Police Academy.
They are also all children of Birmingham police officers. There are 56 recruits who are scheduled to graduate from the academy on Dec.
A fifth recruit is a namesake and nephew of U.S. Marshal
Mike Richards, and raised by him after
his own father passed away.
The calling for public service, as Chief A.C. Roper put it, "often runs in the bloodstream of some
"I think the greatest compliment an employee can give is a recommendation to a friend or family member that BPD is a great place
to work," Roper said. "There is no doubt the risks are many, but the rewards are greater."
There was never any question about a career choice for many of these young people.
Vanessa Berry, daughter of retired Birmingham police Deputy Chief and retired Hoover Police Chief Bob Berry, said she grew up in the precinct.
Her mother, Alma Berry, spent most of her law enforcement career with the Alabama Board of Pardons and Parole. Her uncle Tom Berry, too, was on the force and his wife,
Sandy, was a longtime police dispatcher in Birmingham.
"I can't remember not wanting to do this," said the graduate of Spain Park High School and UAB. "I started as a little kid going to different things with Daddy.
"Anything I was allowed to go to," she said, "they let me tag along."
It's nothing new for Birmingham police officers' sons or daughters to join the force. For decades, it's been somewhat of a family business for siblings, cousins,
and parents and their children.
"Some kids have grown up with the policing traditions so much that any other line of work is out of the question," Roper said.
But departmental officials can't remember another time when there were four children training together.
Three of the recruits -- Perryman, Roberts and Howell -- have the same names as their fathers. The elder Perryman and Howell even graduated the academy together in
"It's kinda like it was meant to be," said recruit Derrick Perryman Jr.
The younger Perryman, a graduate of Thompson High School, said he first took the police entry test two years ago. New hires were on hold, but the call he had been waiting for finally came.
"I've always wanted to do something that would make myself proud and help people at the same time," he said. "Since I've been doing this, I've really been proud of myself."
His earliest memory of his father's career, he said, was the police cruiser. "He brought the police car home one time and that was just really cool," he said. "I just thought that was
the best thing.
His father served as a detective in narcotics and homicide, and retired as a patrol sergeant. Recruit Perryman said he might like to someday be a drug detective. "I don't really want
to catch people
after they do the crime," he said. "I want to get things off the streets to stop people before they get hurt."
Michael Roberts Jr. hasn't even hit the streets yet, but he said he knows he wants to stay with Birmingham for at least 20 years, just like his father, who was a South Precinct patrol
officer, a firing range instructor and sniper for the SWAT team.
The Pelham High School graduate attended the University of Alabama before giving up college for the police academy. His grandfather, Cornelius Roberts, also was a Birmingham police
officer and longtime deputy marshal.
"It feels awesome, amazing, to start getting to do what you really want to do," the younger Roberts said. "I really feel like this is what God wants me to do, what he's chosen for me
"I want to represent the department as a go-getter," he said. "I want to be proactive. I want people to know that I am going to be out there working, trying to make a difference
and not just answering calls."
He said he's often told he has big shoes to fill. "It puts a little pressure on me," he said, "but I don't mind the pressure. It helps motivate me."
At 21, Trey Howell is the youngest in his academy class. His father has served 22 years in the West Precinct.
His grandfather was a police officer, as is his stepfather.
"I grew up all around it," he said. "I think I've always wanted to do this because that's all I've ever seen."
He vividly remembers admiring his father's uniform from a young age. "I always wanted to touch his badge," he said.
After graduating from Bessemer Academy, the younger Howell went to work and began classes at Faulkner University where he will graduate next year with a criminal justice degree.
"I want to be great, but I do want to be my own person," he said. "I'd like to be as good a police officer as my dad is, if not better. With his help I cannot make the mistakes he
thought he made."
His father said he is proud, and looking forward to having his son as a co-worker. "He's done an excellent job over there. Police work, it takes a special person to do it because
you've got to put up with a lot and remain neutral. And you've got to be smart, because the criminals are smart," the elder Howell said. "I expect him to go far."
For Vanessa Berry, she said it's been comforting to have an instant connection with her fellow recruits. "We talk about growing up in a law enforcement family," she said.
"You see things from a whole different perspective."
Berry, who graduated from Spain Park High School and UAB, said a career in law enforcement has always been her dream.
Her father, Bob Berry, joined the force in 1974 and rose to the rank of deputy chief. He retired in 1998, and became the police chief in Hoover, and then served four years as Hoover's
Director of Homeland Security and Immigration. Her mother, Alma, worked at both UAB and Birmingham police departments and then spent 30 years with the Pardons and Parole Board.
Following in their footsteps, Vanessa Berry joined the police Explorers program at age 13.
"They weren't going to talk me out of it," she said. "Their only thing was I had to get a college degree first, and they wanted me to understand what came with
it as far as the stressors and raising a family."
Though she plans to start work on her master's degree in emergency management early in 2012, she said her goals for now remain simple.
"I have no goals set beyond getting on the street and start working," she said. "There are things down the line that I think I would like to do, and moving up in the rank,
but right now I am just ready to start working on the streets after 24 years of waiting. I am ready to go."
Bar not lowered
Roper said there are no shortcuts for the recruits, who had to "jump through every hoop in order to get hired."
"They had to pass the Jefferson County Personnel Board's written test as a first step, in addition to our stringent requirements. But quite often these officers are better prepared
for the challenges of law enforcement due to the influence of their parents," the chief said.
There have been times when a family member didn't pass the requirements and was not hired.
"Fortunately, the employees understood that we have a standard, and we will not lower it for anyone," Roper said. "In those instances, they can apply again like any other applicant."
The department is large enough that family members can be assigned to different units and shifts so there is no undue influence when the new officers come on board.
Roper said not all police parents encourage their children to follow suit.
"We value our children and want the best for them, so there are some parents who will not support their children seeking this line of work due to the inherent stress, danger and
shift work," he said.
"I think," Roper said, "we have to let the next generation follow their hearts and for many it's not police work; but for the few that find it, they quickly learn it's not a job
but a calling."