The FBI National Academy Through the Eyes of Lt. Jill McDonnell

Every few years we have the opportunity to send one of our executive command staff members to the FBI National Academy in Quantico, VA.  Command level personnel attend classes for 10 weeks to study policing best practices.  They attend with other police executives from around the country and the world.  It is a prized policing credential and brings value to our agency and community.  Lt. Jill McDonnell, our Investigations Division Commander, is there right now and sent back this account.  

I am at the 257th FBI National Academy, in Quantico, Virginia. This journey started almost 2 years ago, shortly after I was promoted.  I applied to the Academy through and was sponsored by our local FBI resident agent.  After a background and a physical I received my letter of acceptance.

The 10 week long academy usually host 250 law enforcement representatives from around the world.  But because of academy building construction and several new agent and Intel analyst schools going on the number was reduced.  In my class or session as they call it there are 212 attendees, from 49 states, 26 Countries and 3 branches of the military, of those there are 18 women. There are 3 other Michigan representatives here with me. (Canton Police Chief, Lieutenants from Ann Arbor and Wayne County Sheriffs Department.

The academy is on the Marine Base at Quantico VA.  It is on a campus, which is part of a large federal training facility for FBI, DEA and ATF.  The FBI lab and infamous Hogan’s Alley are located on the FBI National Academy Campus.

It is like being in college as an adult, and the police academy at the same time with a few more restrictions.  We are housed in a dorm and eat in a cafeteria. Tunnels connect dorms with the classroom buildings.  I have a roommate and suite mates.  My roommate Denea is a Lieutenant with the Capitol Police, she is responsible for protection of the 10 important Congressional delegates.  My suite mates Liz is a Major in the US Army Military Police she has done 3 tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. My other suite mate Karyn is an international student from New Zealand. She is a Commander with the New Zealand National Police.

Our days are kept busy with college classes (via Virginia Univ.) that we selected before coming to the academy. In addition to our classes, on Wednesdays we have physical challenges to prepare us for the infamous “Yellow Brick Road”  that will take place in week 9.  They also have quest speakers in the afternoons or evenings. Like college if there is free time on these days people do laundry, homework or sneak in a nap.

As one of our enrichment activities we toured the Holocaust Museum. One of our tour guys was a survivor.  On a Wednesday evening we had a memorial service/wreath laying ceremony at the Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington DC. We traveled in a motorcade escorted by the DC Park Police.  People were waiving and taking photos and videos as we passed.

There are extra curricular trips that are sponsored and organized by session attendees from New York and Philadelphia.  I took advantage of the opportunity to go to New York.  97/212 of us traveled on two buses from Quantico to New York, New York.  We arrived early enough, thanks to police escorts, to hit the town Friday evening. Five of us bought tickets to a Broadway show.  Saturday and Sunday were packed with planned activities.   On Saturday, we left the hotel in the morning to head to NYPD special operations division at the aviation hanger.  There we received a search and rescue demonstration and were provided lunch.  From there we were taken to 1 Police Plaza  (NYPD headquarters) for a tour. We got to see their “real time crime center” and the room where they hold their infamous COMPstat meetings.  After that we had few hours on our own, so we toured Chinatown and Little Italy before heading to dinner.  We dined as a group at Carmines, a famous Italian restaurant.  The NYPD Bigpipers provided the entertainment.  After a wonderful dinner some of us walked over to the Empire State Building.  We went up to the observation deck to check out the city at night.

Sunday morning the NYPD benevolent association provided us with a continental breakfast as we boarded our buses to head to NY Fireboat. We got to a ride aboard their large fireboat in the East River up to the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and under the Brooklyn Bridge.  The same boat that help rescue people from the plane that landed in the Hudson River.  Certainly this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and experience.   Following our   boat ride we re-boarded our buses to head to the 9/11 Memorial and Freedom Tower (1 World Trade Center).   The New York PD honor guard did a wreath laying ceremony at the 9/11 memorial. Then we toured the 9/11 memorial museum.  A very moving place that invokes numerous emotions it is a place everyone should visit.

One of our session members is with the Port Authority Police Department arranged for us to go up in the Freedom Tower which is still under construction.  We were allowed to the 63 floor to take in the view. When completed the Freedom tower will be the tallest building in New York.

Then we boarded our buses for a long ride back the Quantico, VA.

We just finished week number 4.  I am lucky to be heading home to see my family. Some others from the west coast or international students are not as fortunate.  When I get back from my weekend I will be finishing up two research papers, 2 group presentations, 1 lone presentation and two short papers. These classes will earn me college masters credits.

The amazing thing I have learned while here is that whether the department is large or small rural or urban US or abroad we all have similar issues.  The big topic with many agencies is recruitment and retention of employees.  Even the Major City Chiefs that were at the academy for a summit were discussing the issue.

I am looking forward to the next six weeks and returning to work sometime around September  29th.

For more information on the academy go to:

http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/training/national-academy