By Sue Botos
Rocky River/North Olmsted
During last year’s government sequester, the FBI National Academy, an intensive program for U.S. and international law enforcement leaders held at bureau headquarters in Quantico, Va., closed down for the first time in its nearly 80-year history. Much to their disappointment, the class that was shut out in October after only one of what was to be a 10-week program included Rocky River police Chief Kelly Stillman and his North Olmsted counterpart, Jamie Gallagher.
Both he and Stillman had spent over a year going through the detailed application process to represent the Westshore during the prestigious, invitation-only program.
But as Gallagher pointed out, the group of nearly 190, representing 48 states and 17 foreign countries, had an advantage. “We were the first class in the history of the FBINA to be sent home, but we actually got 11 weeks,” he stated. Originally, about 255 were accepted into the program, but not all could return for the rescheduled April 6 to June 13 session.
“The networking was unbelievable,” recalled Stillman, who agreed with Gallagher that making invaluable contacts and the emphasis on leadership qualities were two outstanding opportunities provided by the program.
“It (wasn’t) just the United States, but the international contacts. We have the same problems in law enforcement here as they do in other countries,” Gallagher commented.
Stillman added, “It taught us, as leaders, to really take care of people. There are certain things you can do to improve the quality of life so people enjoy their job and coming to work every day.” Gallagher noted that it was necessary to develop leadership in younger officers. “There is a different generation coming into law enforcement. How we influence another generation is important.”
The chiefs said that the program was run like a semester of college, with participants earning 17 credit hours from the University of Virginia. Classes were held from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, and Stillman said “homework” included writing a dozen papers of about five to 15 pages each and preparing speeches and group presentations. Topics covered law, behavioral science, forensics, leadership development, communications, dealing with the media, homicide investigation, and health and fitness.
“That PT training was unbelievable,” Stillman said, recalling that the instructors were government specialists in exercise science. He said every week, three or four days of PT was required, and that the fitness facilities were always open for individual workouts.
Each Wednesday featured a motivational speaker, and two that stood out for both Stillman and Gallagher were Mike Durant, a Blackhawk helicopter pilot who was kidnapped in Somalia, and Kirk Lippold, commander of the USS Cole when it was attacked by al Qaeda in the port of Aden.
Stillman recalled the presentation by Alabama state trooper Bobby Knight, who was shot, then lost two of his children in separate incidents. “He persevered. It goes to show that you really don’t have it that bad,” Stillman said.
On weekends, the attendees had the opportunity to travel to nearby sights. The chiefs said they both returned home twice during the session, for Memorial Day weekend, and a second time for family events.
Both chiefs praised their staffs and second-in-command officers, Capt. Ron Cox and Lt. Bill Crates for keeping the departments running smoothly. “Ten weeks is a long time to be away, but this was the chance of a lifetime,” Stillman said, noting that police personnel may only attend the academy once.
While Stillman and Gallagher will be integrating what they have experienced into their daily leadership roles in their departments, Gallagher said that the influence goes beyond the police station. “When we go home, it’s important to become an average citizen. This job takes a physical and emotional toll. If the home life is good, that translates into an employee being more well-rounded. We need to develop those coming behind us leaders.”