‘True cop’ gets FBI experience
La PORTE — Don’t expect to see La Porte County Sheriff’s Department Capt. Derek Allen sporting one of the stereotypical FBI dark suits anytime soon, though he may be using some of the Feds’ techniques to fight crime.
Allen graduated from the FBI National Academy on Dec. 14 – part of its 274th class – in Quantico, Virginia, along with police officers from all 50 states, 23 other countries and five military organizations.
The Academy consists of 11 weeks of advanced communication, leadership and fitness training, Allen said.
“I consider it like a three-legged stool,” he said, “academics, fitness and networking. I got to work with 249 of the top upper-level command personnel from departments across the United States and the world.
“It was very much like a college-style setting. We went to classes during the day taught by contracted FBI employees and special agents.”
Allen, nominated by the sheriff’s department, was one of only four officers from Indiana to attend. Selections are made by the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI based on “his proven record of leadership and professionalism within the department and state,” according to Sheriff John Boyd. Officers selected have an average of 21 years of experience.
Allen said the application process was “very intense and competitive” and “a lot of applicants are just put on a waiting list or never get in.
“I was very fortunate that my superiors supported me in the process ... I felt very fortunate to get through the lengthy application process, and couldn’t have done it without the support of the sheriff and my immediate superiors.”
Allen’s individualized course of study included Contemporary Issues in Law Enforcement, Fitness in Law Enforcement, Leading at Risk Employees, Critical Incident Leadership, Managing the Law Enforcement Image, and Essentials for Law Enforcement Executives.
“It was definitely challenging,” he said. “By far the most difficult law enforcement training I’ve ever been through. There were a lot of reports and papers to do, and you had to present topics to the others and do some self-reflection along the way.”
For Allen, who serves as public information officer for the sheriff’s department, one of the most challenging classes was in media relations.
“This is not a slam against anyone, but that class completely took me out of my comfort zone. One of the instructors was a retired TV reporter and the other was retired military who worked in communications for a government agency.
“The classroom was a working, functioning TV studio, and we did interviews and presentations while being evaluated by our peers. They put on the hot lights and made us sweat.”
Allen said the class gave him a somewhat new perspective on working with the media.
“They stressed that we need each other and we need to work together to get information out to the community. They also stressed more visibility on social media as a way to make the public aware of what we’re doing and alert them to emergencies.”
Allen, a lifelong La Porte County resident who was born in Hanna and now lives in Clinton Township, also received credits for the courses from the University of Virginia. He already holds a bachelor’s degree from Ball State.
He thinks much of what he learned can be used to help protect his home county.
“I’m bringing back a lot of very useful information,” he said. “It really opened my eyes to what we’re doing and what others are doing. It let me know that our problems – be they manpower or recruitment or retention – are the same problems other departments have. La Porte County is not on an island. We’re all in this together.”
He said he will be presenting some ideas to the sheriff, but one of the most valuable things he came back with was new resources.
“I learned a lot just from speaking to other law enforcement personnel at the Academy. I picked up some good ideas about things we are doing. And it’s comforting to know that they are available. They’re just a call away, to lend their expertise if we have problems and want educated, experienced answers.”
One specific thing he noted was a focus on fitness, both physical and mental.
“They were really pushing us on physical and mental wellness. Suicides are up among law enforcement officers across the country – we had two in Chicago this year – and they explained how crucial it was to keep an eye on our guys. Check in with them regularly and check the pulse of what is going on with them.”
The cost of the Academy, including tuition, room and board, and travel was covered by the FBI.
“You could never get such great training for next to no cost anywhere else,” Allen said.
He is the 80th sheriff’s department officer to take part in the Academy, but the first since George Ritter in 1996. Allen believes that will be changing.
“I’m not sure why no one has attended for so long, but I know the sheriff was adamant about someone going this year, and they are already trying to get a couple more people interested in attending next year. It would be great for the department to stay involved and send our up-and-coming officers.”
FBI Director Christopher Wray was principal speaker at the graduation ceremony and acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker also addressed the graduates.
“We are very pleased that Captain Allen was selected to attend the FBI National Academy as it is the most prestigious advanced law enforcement leadership training in the world,” Boyd said.
“The education that Captain Allen received is now being brought back to the La Porte County Sheriff’s Office and will better prepare us to meet today’s law enforcement challenges. Professional development of our law enforcement leaders is an essential component in protecting our community...”
Allen called it the “best experience for me in my law enforcement career.”
But don’t expect him to be picking out an expensive suit anytime soon.
“I never really had those dreams of working for the FBI. I like working on investigations, but I’m a true policeman at heart and like being out on the streets. Even being in an office as supervisor of the patrol division, I enjoy being out there working.”
And now he will have a few new tools to make that work more effective.