Of the 14 graduates, 12 already have accepted jobs with Florida law enforcement agencies.
After the first day of the Florida Law Enforcement Academy at Manatee Technical College on Jan. 22, eight of the 22 students who had signed up for the program quit.
Academy Director Jay Romine addressed those who were still standing after a very tough physical training session.
"I know you have doubts and concerns," Romine told his remaining students. "But the cream is about to rise to the top."
The 14 remaining students made it through and celebrated their graduation from the academy June 20 at the Braden River High School auditorium.
Among them was Teres Carducci, the only student in the class who has committed to The Manatee County Sheriff's Office.
"I was not in shape," Carducci said of that first day. "After that first day, I was half dead. But I was doing this for me and my children."
Carducci is a mother of three, 7-year-old Colton, 4-year-old Mason and 1-year-old Hayden.
Also making it through was Nathan Lynn, an Army reserve veteran who was awarded the Class Leader honor.
"I knew I wasn't going to be No. 9 (to drop out)," he said.
In the crowd were representatives from law enforcement agencies from all over Florida. With Florida's population expanding and the state legislature making it mandatory for schools to either have resource officers or security guards, the competition for law enforcement officers is keen.
"As soon as our recruits graduate, they can sit for their state exam and we have a testing center right on our main campus (in Bradenton)," Romine said. "We have a 97% pass rate. Out of our 14 graduates, all but two are spoken for. The other two are in the pipeline. This is a great time to get into law enforcement. There are plenty of openings."
Wells is waiting to see if Manatee County Commissioners approve the 10 new road deputies suggested in the new budget by Administrator Cheri Coryea. But he said he has been able over the past two years to hire plenty of good candidates even with the competition from other agencies. Wells has added 20 new deputies over the past two years and it will be 30 in three years if the suggested budget goes through.
Although the Manatee County Sheriff's Office had a commitment from only Carducci in MTC's current class, it had 16 commits from MTC's previous class according to Capt. Bill Duckett, the director of training for the Sheriff's Office.
Wells said they can rely on MTC to produce solid future deputies.
"They go through a rigid process," Wells said. "Of course, going through any academy doesn't mean you have the necessary requirements to do the job, but this academy is harder than most."
Wells said it takes another four months of training for graduates of an academy to be ready to go on duty. The field training is key because "it opens their eyes," according to Wells.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation standard is approximately 2.1 sworn officers per 1,000 residents and Wells said his department is just under that number. However, he added, "that doesn't mean much to me. We live in one of the largest tourist attrations in the state of Florida. It says we have 380,000 residents, but people come here, and stay here."
As Wells hopes to get more deputies from the MTC program, he will have lots of competition.
Mike Catalano was at the ceremony representing the Lakeland Police Department. He had just taken over the position of recruitment and training officer two years ago and this was his second attempt at landing an MTC grad. He was successful this time, signing Kyle Crum of Bradenton.
"I travel all over the state and (MTC) runs a good program," Catalano said. "Different schools have different procedures for getting people, but here, they make them take a polygraph test, and that's huge."
Romine said he believes MTC has the most stringent qualification process among the state's 40 law enforcement academies.
"All their records are verified," he said. "We don't want to waste anyone's time."