However, most law enforcement training programs do not devote the time to train officers on how to serve as effective leaders within their organization and community.
A decade ago, Mountain Empire Community College Professor Robert England and Southwest Virginia Criminal Justice Academy Director Doug Cooley recognized the need to develop stronger leadership skills in new and veteran law enforcement officers. The Southwest Virginia Professional Leadership Academy was born.
Since 2006, hundreds of law enforcement officers have graduated from the academy, a year-long program that meets twice a month involving selected police and corrections personnel from throughout the region. Officers earn 16 college credits from Mountain Empire Community College by completing the leadership curriculum and a detailed administrative project.
“Most officers have been through field training that covers the basic leadership skills needed in the field and at work,” said England. “Our goal with the leadership academy was to develop leadership skills at a whole new level, so that officers can find out about themselves, their personality and leadership profile. There is a lot of focus on personal and professional leadership, morals, ethics, motivation, and communication.”
Numerous academy graduates have attested to the positive changes they experienced after completing the program. Often, graduates have reorganized operations and changed the culture of their organization by implementing ideas gleaned from the experience. Academy participants are encouraged to examine their budgets, operation procedures, training programs, community engagement, and mentoring activities for possible improvements.
“Your way of thinking changes after going through this program,” said Dickenson County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Tammy Robinson. “You are able to re-analyze the processes in your organization and the decisions that you make.”
“I’ve used the program to help our department move forward. The academy has helped me see the potential of our organization and how we can interact better with our community and with each other,” added Bluefield, Va. Police Officer Justin McCully.
England noted that almost every law enforcement agency in Southwest Virginia has participated in the program during the last ten years, with Wise County Sheriff’s Office boasting over 25 graduates of the program. In addition to police forces, the program has expanded to include federal, state and local corrections employees as well.
“A criminal justice agency can only be as strong as its leadership,” added Cooley. “The Academy has afforded the leaders and rising leaders from our local agencies the opportunity to truly develop as professionals. Participating in this academy helps officers develop the skills that our communities expect from their top law enforcement executives. It is critical in these challenging times in law enforcement that we continue to develop strong leaders.”
Photo Left to right: Greg Vencil, Bristol City Sheriff’s Office; David Collins, Bristol Virginia Sheriff’s Office ; Chris Whitt, Bristol Virginia Sheriff’s Office; Marty Berry, Washington County Sheriff’s Office; Ryan Phillips, Wise County Sheriff’s Office; DeWitt Cooper, Tazewell Police Department; Robert England, Mountain Empire Community College; Justin McCulley, Bluefield Police Department; Chris Kent, Wise Police Department; Tammy Robinson, Dickenson County Sheriff’s Office; Charles (Tody) Curry, Wise County Sheriff’s Office; Tim Carroll, Bluefield Police Department; Charles Foster, Wythe County Sheriff’s Office; and Kenneth Joyner, Appalachia Police Department.