Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty spent years hoping for a chance to attend the FBI’s law enforcement training academy in Quantico, Va.
The experience proved well worth the wait.
“I grew significantly,” Liberty said. “I really broadened my horizons and built my network of resources.”
Liberty, who graduated Sept. 21, was one of 270 students from around the country to most recently complete law enforcement training at the FBI National Academy, which provides professional and physical training for law enforcement leaders. The bureau hosts four 10-week programs every year to provide instruction in law, behavioral science, forensic science, terrorism, communication and health and fitness. More than 45,000 law enforcement professionals, including 3,200 from international locations, have graduated from the program during its 77-year history.
“Basically, the program is a college semester,” said Liberty, who holds degrees from the University of Maine at Augusta and a master’s in leadership from Liberty University in Pennsylvania. The sheriff took four graduate and two undergraduate courses at the academy, including human resources, managing organizational change, fitness and contemporary issues in law enforcement.
Liberty said the instructors are the best in their profession. A class about pursuit policy and liability, for example, was taught by one of the FBI’s chief legal counsel. “She wrote the book,” Liberty said.
Learning extended beyond the classroom as the law enforcement executives shared with each other and offered ideas and practices that have proven track records.
“We could talk regionally about how we handle issues and how we develop policies and what the national best practices are,” Liberty said.
One of the highlights for Liberty was meeting the international students. His roommate was from Kenya and worked patrolling the border as part of a campaign to keep poachers from killing wildlife. His roommate, who described the political corruption in Kenya, found it strange that law enforcement and politics could be effectively intertwined.
“He was surprised you could be an elected law enforcement officer,” Liberty said. “It was very interesting.”
Liberty returned from the academy with three painted bricks, two blue and one yellow. He earned the blue bricks by swimming roughly 100 miles in a pool over the course of the 10 weeks.
He earned the yellow brick by completing a fitness challenge consisting of a 6.1-mile run. Built by Marines, the run includes wall climbing, running up hills and through creeks, jumping through simulated windows and scaling rock faces with ropes, crawling under barbed wire in muddy water and maneuvering across a cargo net. The course became known as the Yellow Brick Road when the Marines left yellow bricks at spots to mark the way through the trail.
“I’m in the best shape I’ve been in 20 years,” said Liberty, who spent 23 years in the Army, including seven as a drill instructor. “It’s all oriented around the law enforcement profession.”
Beyond the instruction the biggest benefit of the academy is the connections you make, Liberty said.
He has already reached out to classmates in other states with questions and seeking opportunities to train others in his department.
“One of the real strengths is the national academy graduate network,” Liberty said.
Deputy Chief Charles Rumsey of the Waterville Police Department, who completed the academy two years ago, said he continues to reach out to law enforcement across the country through Internet message boards used by graduates.
“What I’ve noticed is the bonds you form when you’re there are very lasting ones,” Rumsey said. “When you attend an international training program you have such a deeper pool of folks you can draw from to find help.”
Rumsey said he sought advice through the network when Waterville Police developed policies to govern use of social network sites.
“You have hundreds of colleagues,” Rumsey said. “Name the issue you need to tackle and you can find someone at the academy who has dealt with that issue regularly.”
Liberty said he returned home anxious to put his education into practices, but the instruction also offered a measure of reassurance.
“I found out 95 percent of what we’re doing is right,” he said.
Kennebec County Administrator Robert Devlin said the county will benefit from Liberty’s experience. One of the classes provided training in human resources and law enforcement manuals.
“We’ve already started looking at them to make sure we’re up to date on things,” Devlin said. “We’re’ doing pretty good at staying current.”
He said the sheriff’s office ran smoothly in Liberty’s absence. Chief Deputy Everett Flannery, Devlin noted, has acted as the sheriff.
Devlin said the FBI program offered Liberty a chance to step away from the day-to-day routine of running the office.
“If you’re a law enforcement professional, it’s a ticket you have to punch,” Devlin said.
Craig Crosby — 621-5642