By Natalie Johnson / firstname.lastname@example.org
Between October and mid-December, Centralia Police Commander Stacy Denham attended the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Academy along with 222 police officers from around the nation and the world, including the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Tasmania, Vietnam, Costa Rica, the Philippines and South Korea, among others.
While the classmates came from varying cultures, religions and regions in the world, Denham soon learned they had more similarities than differences.
“The Centralia Police Department is no different than Boston, it’s no different than New York, it’s no different than any police department in the nation as far as the problems that we’re having,” he said. “It turned out we had the same problems worldwide. As humans we’re very similar no matter what walk of life we’re from.”
Denham spent 11 weeks at the academy in Quantico, Virginia, culminating in his graduation Dec. 15, at which President Donald Trump made a speech.
“He talked about his support for law enforcement,” he said, noting the president also took the opportunity to criticize the media.
Denham’s family flew out for the graduation and to tour Washington D.C. and New York before returning to Centralia Dec. 24.
The academy is held several times a year and is focused on leadership training for law enforcement officers. Attendees obtain college credits for coursework.
Denham said he and his more than 200 classmates attended most of their classes on a Marine Corps base that they fondly called “the gerbil cage” due to its labyrinth of hallways between classrooms.
The format of the academy encouraged classmates to work together and share ideas. The process results in firm and lasting friendships, he said.
“They put you in this environment where you’re almost forced to interact and exchange ideas and learn from each other,” Denham said. “I didn’t understand how impactful that was going to be for me.”
While at the academy, networking with classmates was encouraged and vital to success, but at first Denham said he didn’t know that community of 222 police officers would continue to work together and share ideas.
“I didn’t realize the power of that until I got back here because when I got back here several people had reached out to our classmates … by email,” he said.
Immediately, more emails began pouring into his inbox, this time answering the questions or brainstorming solutions to problems.
“It wasn’t that they reached out, it was all the information that came back in,” he said.
In many ways, the National Academy wasn’t what Denham expected. Before leaving last year, he was excited about nutrition and fitness classes. He’d always exercised and thought the academy could help him add to his routine.
“When I got there, the way I’ve always exercised and worked out went kind of in conflict with what they taught,” he said. “They won me over.”
Instructors also emphasized an officer’s mental fitness as being just as important as their physical fitness — something Denham wants to bring back to the Centralia Police Department.
“I don’t think in law enforcement we do that well enough,” he said.
Denham was promoted to commander by Centralia Police Chief Carl Nielsen — also a graduate of the FBI’s National Academy — in 2015.
With earlier promotions, Denham said he felt excited about the opportunity and wanted to do a good job, but was concerned that he wasn’t ready for the task.
“The difference being this is the first time in my career … that I’ve had a person like Chief Nielsen who’s a very good mentor and wants to train people to do a better job,” he said. “(The Academy) cemented exactly what he has been trying to impart onto me.”
Denham said the academy taught him about himself, his own style of leadership and what he could do to improve. He learned about the importance of mentoring junior officers, and plans to bring his newfound skills and perspective back to work in Centralia.
“It makes me want to be a better leader,” he said.