One member of the Madison Police Department's recently graduated class of officers isn't old enough to legally buy a six-pack of beer. Another is older than the city's chief of police.
They are among the youngest and oldest new officers the department has ever hired, personnel and training Capt. Tom Snyder said.
But despite the 37 years that separate them, both Joey Buccellato, 20, and Michael Love, 57, are faced with the same challenge: Pull together 800 hours of academy instruction and three months of field training, and go about the work of keeping Madison safe. Do that all while riding solo -- without the benefit of the experienced training officer they'd been working with up until this point.
"There's no one next to you," Buccellato said. "It's your decisions to make."
Each year, about 1,200 people apply to become Madison police officers, Snyder said.
This year, that crop was reduced to an academy class of 35 new recruits -- a big year, he said, since there are usually only about 13 or 14 spots.
In wading through those applicants, the department looks for a lot of things: People who understand service, who can work well under pressure, who are ethical, outgoing and physically fit.
It's also looking for a diverse group: women and men of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, Snyder said, with a mix of life experiences.
It had been decades since the department hired someone as young as Buccellato, and Love is the oldest new recruit Madison's ever had, according to Snyder.
(Their age difference is 37 years exactly, as the two men share an August birthday.)
Ultimately, Snyder said, the department wants to put officers on the street who are going to fulfill its mission -- to provide good police service to everyone in the community.
"These guys really epitomized exactly what we were looking for," Snyder said.
A path for 'Baby Joe'
Both Buccellato and Love started out in different careers, or at least on different career paths.
Love flew charter airplanes, worked for a while at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston and was vice president of a Madison technology company. Buccellato, who grew up in Rochester, Minnesota, was working toward a career in medicine, joining the field of his mother and stepfather, who worked at Mayo Clinic.
But the men also felt the pull toward police work.
"It was always an idea on the back burner that I had never acted on," Buccellato said.
Those pre-med classes, he said, weren't keeping him interested. So he changed his path, switching majors to criminal justice and Spanish at St. Cloud State University, and working as a campus safety officer.
Policing "challenges you physically and mentally and psychologically," he said. "I wanted something that was going to push me, and I think this was the job that was going to do that."
Buccellato finished college in three years and applied to Madison. It was one of the few police departments that would even let him try -- many required applicants be at least 21, Buccellato said.
Police Chief Mike Koval, then a sergeant teaching a law lecture in the academy, was the first to bring up Buccellato's age.
"Baby Joe" has become his nickname within the department. Buccellato jokes he could probably stay in Madison for 40 years and it would still stick.
'Age is just a number'
Love wanted to get into policing earlier, but "life just had little challenges in front of me that I had to take care of," he said.
A few years ago -- when plenty of people would have been thinking about retirement or slowing down -- Love decided to make a push for the job he'd always wanted. With his children grown, his house in Mazomanie paid off and his wife supporting him, he applied to become a police officer.
Love matched the new recruits who were half his age or younger in the academy. He scored highest in physical fitness, Snyder said.
"I've always believed that age is just a number, and if you set your mind on doing something -- regardless of your age -- you can accomplish your goal," Love said. "I really didn't look at myself like, 'Oh, gosh, I'm 57 and I really shouldn't take this big risk.'
"I said, 'All right, let's go do this.'"
After their academy wrapped up in March, the officers started field training, which involves working different shifts in different parts of the city.
This week, they fly solo
Their responsibilities ramp up as training goes on, Snyder said, from "glorified ride-along" to writing reports and responding to calls like a patrol officer would, but with the guidance of a training officer.
This is the week they start flying solo. Love works afternoons on the West Side, Buccellato evenings on the East.
The two men, and their academy classmates, are at different stages of their lives but the same stage of their careers as police officers.
"I have not seen everything that can happen on the streets -- neither has Mike, neither has anybody," Buccellato said. "But we're now going to have to figure it out on our own."
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