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Three local officers honored for service
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An academic achievement award is given to the top graduate of the police academy each year based on their grade point average and performance during their time at the academy. The Covington Police Department has had three graduates receive this honor for three years in a row which is rare for any police department, but what is even rarer is the fact that they are all women.

The Sheriff Franklin Thornton Award, named after the long-time Walton County Sheriff, is a prestigious award for any upcoming law enforcement officer.

Officer April Combs was the first to receive the award in early 2011. She said she decided she wanted to be a police officer to protect the community she grew up in.

"It's an honor to receive this award," Combs said. "I couldn't be happier."

To receive this award, each officer in training has to take approximately 16 tests and have the highest academic score on every one.

"My advice to future academy graduates is to study hard and listen to your instructors," Combs said.
A 2004 graduate of Eastside High School, Combs said her favorite part about being a police officer is the opportunity to meet different people and to protect her family, friends and fellow members of the community.

When Officer Kara Hipps arrived at the CPD, the bar was already set high.
"I knew that Officer Combs had received the award, and it was going to be up to me to keep up the pace," Hipps said, and that's exactly what she did.

Hipps was the second person in a row to receive the award.

"It was a lot of hard work, but it was well worth it," she continued. "The hardest part was the time it took to complete the process, but looking back, I still wouldn't change it for the world."
Hipps is a 2000 Eastside High School graduate. She was inspired by her D.A.R.E officer in middle school to follow her passion; something she encourages others to do.

"My advice to everyone is to never give up on your dreams," she said. "Whether you want to be a police officer or not, anything is possible."

Officer Star Gibbs is the most recent graduate to receive the academic achievement award.
Although she too worked hard to achieve this award, Gibbs said she wouldn't have succeeded if she didn't have the support of co-workers.

"The best part about working with these people is the amazing bond that forms between us," she continued. "I know that we are all going to be friends for a lifetime."

Gibbs decided to take a chance on becoming a police officer to follow in her dad's footsteps. She is a 2004 Eastside High School graduate.

"When I began my journey in the police academy, Chief [Stacey] Cotton asked me if I was going to follow in Officer Combs and Hipps' footsteps," Gibbs said. "I told him that I was going to try my best to make him proud."

For Cotton, the awards have done just that.

"I am very proud of these ladies and the hard work they have put in at the academy. I don't know of any agency in recent history that can boast three honor graduates in a row from the same academy. The recruitment of female officers is one of the biggest challenges that a Chief faces. These ladies along with our three veteran lady officers prove that quality is more important than quantity."