The Aiken Department of Public Safety swore in four new officers on Friday, but they gained many more family members.


Four officers – Thaddeus Coe, Frank Viquez, Alan Willing and Greg Wise – graduated from the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy during a ceremony in Columbia on Friday and then came to Aiken Public Safety headquarters to be sworn in.


During a small ceremony in the courtroom, City Clerk Sara Rideout swore in each officer. Rideout, who has been the clerk for 50 years, has sworn in every public safety officer since 1977, when the police and fire departments merged to become Public Safety.


Family members of each officer were present, and during a reception later, several former and current Public Safety officials addressed the officers' families, all with the same message: “You're part of our family now.”


Former Chief Carroll Busbee told the crowd, “I'm so proud to be here with you today and to see these young men come forward and do what they're fixing to do. They need your help very much, because now they have two families to care for. But, we like to include you and us as one family.”


Lt. Matt Braxton, who retired from Aiken Public Safety on Friday after more than 20 years with the agency, also addressed the crowd.


“Wives, families – just know that your young officers are in great hands,” he said. “When I first started this, my mother about lost her mind – 'Oh, my baby's gonna get hurt!' And yes, that stuff does happen, but we do a great job here of preparing officers for those bad moments.”


Afterward, the families had a chance to interact with Aiken Public Safety leadership, including Chief Charles Barranco, who gave them his cellphone number. The new officers also took their families on a tour of headquarters.


New Public Safety Officer Viquez brought several family members to Friday's ceremony.


“I like that they do this,” he said. “Everybody needs to see where I'm gonna be and spend most of my time. ... It makes them familiar with everything and kind of calms them down.”


Kristina Wise, whose husband, new Public Safety Officer Greg Wise graduated Friday, said the event at headquarters gave their family peace of mind.


“You always wonder when they go off to a job, where they're at and who they're around,” she said. “Here, they're so open about it, and it feels good, especially with us having young children, to know that we're all accepted here as family, and that it's not a closed-door policy.”


Barranco said they're required to have a swearing in to meet accreditation standards, but the department wanted to go a step beyond that and have been holding the “family orientation” for about two years.


“Truthfully, some of this came out of losing two officers, and the concern families have about people going into this profession,” he said, referring to the deaths of officers Scotty Richardson and Sandy Rogers roughly two years ago. “If the family can see the people they're working with and have a comfort level with that, that's going to make that transition easier.”


The officers still have several components of their training to complete, including the fire academy, and will likely be looking for their first shift assignments in May 2015, according to Lt. Jake Mahoney, who sees new officers through much of their training. He said family support is essential to working in law enforcement.


“For the officer to be successful, he has to have the support of his family,” he said. “The need to understand what their officers are going through – the challenges, the risks – but also understand what factors are in place to keep them safe.”


Teddy Kulmala covers the crime and courts beat for the Aiken Standard.