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CHATTANOOGA — Law enforcement officials from across the region were recognized here Friday as the first graduates of a new University of Tennessee college credit program for crime fighters.

The graduation ceremony for the Southeastern Command and Leadership Academy honored 20 police officers, criminologists and others from three states.

Congressman Zach Wamp, who delivered the keynote address, praised the graduates for their courage and commitment.

“Public service is a very noble profession, we have a lot to live up to,” Wamp said. “I am pleased that our generation has risen to our generational call to courage.

“Continuing education is not a luxury, it is a necessity in the competitive environment we live in today. Thank you for you willingness to participate and your dedication, sacrifice and service.”

Tom Ballard, UT vice president for governmental and public relations, praised the collaborative efforts of local law enforcement and university leaders.

“All good things happen as a result of vision, mission initiative and collaboration,” Ballard said. “We were able to graduate this class today because of the success that UT Chattanooga, Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police and UT Institute for Public Service brought to the table.

“Congratulations to today’s graduates.”

Mike Hill of UT’s Law Enforcement Innovation Center said the ceremony was a momentous occasion both for the participants and for the successful partnership between universities and communities in the Southeast.

“This academy brought together chiefs and command staff officers from law enforcement agencies in several states, and some of the region’s top criminal justice scholars for the most advanced available study in this field,” Hill said. “The participants have been through a 14-month process that has provided them with a new set of skills and knowledge that should have both immediate and long-term impact on their respective agency and community.-

“This program helps prepare students for increased responsibilities in senior law enforcement positions to lead the future of their profession.”

Hill said the 14-month course included law enforcement officials from Chattanooga, Soddy-Daisy, Cleveland, East Ridge, Signal Mountain, Brentwood, Dyersburg, Nashville, Knoxville, Gallatin, Alcoa, Gulfport, Miss., and Matthews, N.C.

The program offers 10-12 undergraduate credit hours or three-six graduate level credit hours through UTC in leadership and management, emerging trends in law enforcement, organizational skills, diversity, media relations and other areas.

The academy is a partnership between UT’s Law Enforcement Innovation Center, UTC Continuing Education Division, UTC School of Social and Community Services, and the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police.

Hill said a second class of SECLA is set for July 2002 with graduation in February 2003. It will be held at Chattanooga-s Marriott Courtyard and is open to all law enforcement agencies, he said.