ST. LOUIS COUNTY, MO - This fall, Fox 2 News has the unique opportunity to follow a class of recruits through the St. Louis County and Municipal Police Academy. We'll learn about the testing and training these men and women go through to prepare them to serve and protect the community.
Standing five feet, two inches Octavia Hearon, 23, is the shortest recruit in Class 193. Born and raised in the Dellwood/Ferguson area, Hearon said she knew from an early age, she was called to serve others.
"I always liked helping people," Hearon said. "I knew I was going to be a nurse or a police officer."
After graduating from Pattonville High School, Hearon said she knew she wanted to join the military. She had relatives who served in the United States Navy and the U.S. Air Force. Hearon joined the Air Force Reserves in 2014 and has since traveled to Texas, Wisconsin, Virginia and Germany. She will continue to fulfill her commitments one weekend a month, and two weeks a year while training at the St. Louis County and Municipal Police Academy.
"My family says, 'You must love doing the dangerous jobs. First, it was the military, now you want to be a police officer.'"
It's the risk of danger, that has her sister, Angel, concerned for her Hearon's safety.
"People are going to underestimate her because she's a female and because she's short," Angel said.
Hearon was and is committed though. Once she made the decision to become a police officer, Hearon got her foot in the door with the University City Police Department as a dispatcher. She said she learned a lot as a dispatcher including the city's street names and intersections. She also learned how to communicate with people under extreme stress.
After ten months as a dispatcher, Hearon finally got the call to the academy. The University City Police Department paying Hearon's salary while she goes through training, and after graduation in December she will proudly patrol University City as an officer.
Hearon and her family joke about the day she may have to arrest someone who is much taller and larger than she is.
"I just hope when that time comes and she does have to arrest someone that is six foot and 300 pounds more than she is that she does it in the safest way she can," said Hearon's fiancé, Jessica Montgomery.
Hearon and Montgomery have been together for four years and are engaged to be married in 2018. Montgomery also grew up in the St. Louis area and finds the recent violence against police officers troubling.
The shooting death of St. Louis County Police Officer Blake Snyder had a big impact on her, Montgomery said, because it happened so close to home. She and Hearon, who had already begun the application process for the police academy when Officer Snyder was killed, have since talked a lot about the attack and the dangers Hearon will face as an officer.
When Hearon is not training at the academy, Montgomery said the two enjoy spending time with family, and hope to start their own family someday. Montgomery hopes when the day comes for Hearon to have to pull someone over or write them a ticket, that they'll be able to see the person beyond the badge.
"She has a family that she has to come home to," Montgomery said. "She has a family that she's going to want to come home to in the future, her kids and things like that. I just want them to know that whatever decision they make it can affect a lot more people than just her."
Recruit Hearon is one of three recruits Fox 2 will be following through the St. Louis County and Municipal Police Academy.
To see more of Fox 2's exclusive series of reports, "Inside the Academy," visit www.fox2now.com/academy.