WESTPORT — Officer Michael Tomanelli graduated from the Police Academy in Meriden on Sept. 15 as the first Westport hire the town has put through the academy in seven years.

Most hires have been lateral transfers from other departments, Lt. David Farrell said, which saves on academy costs and brings in officers with experience on the job. But within the next six months, the department plans to put another one to two recruits through the academy.

Farrell said Westport Police have had a spike in hiring recently due to a number of officers leaving the department, including seven officers that have retired already this year. The “mass exodus” of retirements is because 2016 is a contract year, Farrell said, so some officers with more than 25 years on the force are retiring on the current contract rather than waiting for an unknown new deal.

From Marlboro, N.Y. originally, Tomanelli is now living in Fairfield. He finished his undergraduate degree in criminal justice at Sacred Heart University in December2014 and began his master’s degree in criminal justice at the university. He is working on his thesis and plans to defend it in December.

Tomanelli was part of the Sacred Heart band program and a drum major of the marching band for two years, which he said gave him leadership skills to understand working with and motivating people.

The 21-year-old Eagle Scout is set to finish his supervised field training in early December. Tomanelli’s first day on the job was Sept. 19 after he graduated from the academy several days before. He was officially hired in late March.

While he is currently focusing on training and work in the patrol unit, the former swimmer said he hopes to eventually work his way to be part of the department’s Dive-Rescue Team.

Field Training Officer Daniel Paz said Tomanelli is picking up training quickly, learning the town as well as codes and signals specific to Westport Police.

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about why you wanted to become an officer?

A: Growing up I was involved in a lot of community programs in my hometown of Marlboro. I was a Boy Scout where eventually I earned the rank of Eagle, I was a Knights of Columbus squire and with those two organizations I gave back to the community through the various events we did. But at the same time, I was also on the football team and various other sports teams, so it built that kind of camaraderie. Then in college I was part of the Sacred Heart University band program and we did a lot of community service projects with them. Eventually it led me to that I did my undergrad in criminal justice and I’ll have my master’s in criminal justice as well from Sacred Heart. It just made sense to me that, what a better way to give back to the community than to protect those who live and those who travel through here in the best way possible.

Q: What was your experience in the academy like?

A: It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience where we learned a lot of the basic things to help us get through our first few weeks here in FTO, and there are some things I learned in the academy that I’ll remember my whole career, which is pretty nice. I definitely knew Day 4 or 5 of the academy, I knew straight then and there that this was for me and this was what my passion was to just pursue it and go for it. And I built a lot of good friendships that will last a lifetime there. I had a huge respect for those who came before me and an even bigger respect for those that are going to come after me into the job.

Q: What were some of the specific things you learned that you think will stick with you from the academy?

A: Definitely officer safety and making sure I’m safe and that whoever I’m with is safe, but at the same time, one of the best things at the academy was we had a community policing day where we helped out at the Special Olympics, where we helped move a couple things and set up some chairs and booths and things. That gave us a really good way to interact with the public and we got to see a whole side of this is how people generally want to talk to you and they want your help. I learned a lot about how to deal with certain calls, such as an emotionally disturbed person or those who are under the influence, and how sometimes in those cases it’s more important to get them the medical treatment that they need or the emergency response that they need rather than to try and figure out what else to do with them. We learned that it’s a fine line and it’s good to know we have that ability to find where that line is and work it out.

Q: How does it feel to be in uniform?

A: It feels like a great accomplishment, but at the same time, I know I have a lot of work ahead of me. Coming on I’m the first one to go through the academy in a while, so I don’t exactly have the pedigree that some of the other officers around here have. ... I’m the new guy, and I have to work hard and that’s basically what I’m trying to do every day. Even if it’s 1 percent better every day in something, I’m pushing to get that 1 percent because eventually it’ll add up.

Q: Why did you want to work in Westport?

A: Westport reminds me of my hometown, just on a larger scale. Marlboro only has 3,000 people, meanwhile here we can average anywhere from 30,000 to 40,000 depending on the day with work and the different businesses. But it’s that same style of community. (Marlboro’s) main street, there’s a few delis where you go into and everyone knows everyone and that’s the same thing here. … It’s just a bigger version of my hometown. And the department obviously drove me here. There’s a lot of opportunities for development and training here, and that’s one of the best things going in, especially for someone like me who’s the new guy just getting on. I feel like it was just a perfect fit for me.

Lweiss@hearstmediact.com; @LauraEWeiss16