Matthew Orr and Robert Bedard were strangers 24 weeks ago.
Now, they are both Montville Police officers, training together in their first days on the job.
Both men are 24. They began the Police Officer Standards and Training Council program - the police academy in Meriden - in late August, and graduated Feb. 9. Orr was named the best overall officer in their class, an honor that makes him proud as well as humble.
Bedard says he knew that Orr was going to win, and told him so. Orr fends him off, nearly blushing.
"I felt there were other people who were better," Orr says, and it is easy to believe his humility.
Bedard is a native Montvillian. He graduated from Montville High School in 2004, and went to college in Florida, hoping to play baseball. When it became clear to him that his baseball dreams were not going to land him in the bigs, he transferred to Western Connecticut State University, where he earned his degree in criminal justice.
He has spent the past couple years doing part-time jobs and "taking many tests," he says. And after passing all the tests, he was named as an offier on the force in his own hometown.
Orr grew up in Wilton and earned his degree in criminology at Stonehill College in Easton, Mass. His dad is an attorney, and he worked for a while as a paralegal.
There was a particular case that drove him into the force, he says. His firm was defending someone who was clearly guilty, and that was enough for Orr.
Bedard had wanted to be a police officer pretty much since fifth grade, he says, when he met Montville Police Officer Dennis Monahan, the town's first DARE officer. Monahan died in 2007, after battling cancer, but his effect on the town and the town's youth was far-reaching.
Bedard stayed in contact with Monahan long after school. Their families were friends. Bedard spent time with him when Monahan was in the hospital.
"Officer Monahan was my biggest influence," Bedard says.
At the academy, Bedard and Orr worked very hard. They rose daily at 5 a.m., did physical training, including running and lifting weights, then did classwork for eight hours.
They lived at the academy during the week, spending evenings studying for the barrage of tests they would have to pass.
There was not a particular area that was harder than any other, the officers say.
"'Difficult' isn't really the word," Bedard says, explaining that the training is couched in ways that expedite learning. The point of the classes is not to weed people out, but to make sure that everyone learns everything they need to know.
Some of the major areas of training are firearms qualifications, motor vehicle law, driving, baton and pepper spray and basic medical/first responder training.
"The hardest part," Orr says, "was realizing about halfway through that, 'Oh, my God, I'm only halfway done.'"
Their new jobs
The new officers are glad to be on the Montville force, glad to be in a small town.
"Even though these are tough times," Orr says, "The town's booming."
"This department's going in the right way," Bedard says.
On Monday, Orr is on his third day on the force, and Bedard on his second.
"It's fun," Orr says. "It's a lot more fun that the academy. It's fun to talk to people and find out what we can help them with."
"You've got to get out and do it," Bedard says. "That's where you learn the most."
The two will be with a field training officer for 14 weeks, they say. Their first call was with their FTO, responding to a domestic disturbance call.
"I definitely had butterflies," Bedard says.
But now, Orr says, "They're starting to go away."
Asked what they'd like to say to the people of Montville, the new officers grin.
"We're excited to be here," Bedard says.
"Look for us out there," Orr says. "Come up to us and say hi. We're there to help."
And, Bedard adds, "Drive safe."