By Bob Krauss
Brandi Yarnell, leader of the class of Honolulu Police Department recruits graduating tonight, stands at only 5 feet 5. Still, I wouldn't mess with her, not after six months of defense tactic training at the police academy.
Eight hundred men and women applied for the training, 63 were accepted and 33 have made it to graduation. Six of them are women, two are mothers and another, Sheri Canopin, was Miss Kaua'i. But don't expect to hear about the police academy romances you see on television.
"There weren't any sparks in class," Yarnell said. "We were too busy trying to pass."
She is on record as the first woman to be leader of a class of recruits with two platoon leaders and six squad leaders under her.
"I don't think it's anything special because everybody else went through what I did. A lot of credit goes to the instructors. They make you realize that you're more capable than you think you are. You do things you didn't think you could.
"I'm especially grateful because some officers on the force don't think policewomen should be on the street. The instructors realize the potential of women, or anyone."
Yarnell said every recruit has to bench-press 85 percent of his or her body weight. "That's hard for women because we don't have the same upper-body strength as men," she said. "You have to train and be in shape physically and push yourself to the limit."
Yarnell will be a fourth-generation police officer, from her great-grandfather on down. As a girl, she listened to her father talk to his friends about their police adventures. In elementary school, she was a junior police officer holding a traffic sign for the other students.
Later, she was impressed by the police officers who visited the school to warn about drugs. Most of all, the policemen's dedication to the community made her want to be on the force. Her parents in Kailua constructed a haunted house in the front yard every Halloween to keep kids out of trouble. It was a lot of work, and police officers volunteered their time to do most of it.
Yarnell said if she were giving advice to students about a police career, she'd tell them that it's hard work and very challenging but there is something new every day, and many different ways to go. Before applying in Honolulu, she was accepted by the Public Safety Academy in Sunnydale, Calif., and was paid twice what she's getting as a police recruit here.
But she likes Honolulu better, as does Scott Nakasone, another member of the class, who spent seven years as an officer in the Los Angeles Police Department, where salaries are much higher than in Honolulu. He says Hawai'i is a better place to raise his children.
In comparing the police academies in Los Angeles and Honolulu, he said Honolulu is more oriented to academics while the academy in L.A. puts more stress on tactical training.