EATON — Eaton Police Chief Chad DePew returned this month from an intensive, 10-week training course at the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia.
DePew was one of 213 officers to graduate from the FBI National Academy Program. Founded in 1935 by J. Edgar Hoover as an elite course for law enforcement executives, this spring’s 264th session consisted of men and women from 47 states, the District of Columbia, 21 international countries, four military organizations, and eight federal civilian organizations.
The program focuses on advanced communication, leadership, and fitness training for selected officers having proven records as professionals within their agencies. On average, the officers have 19 years of law enforcement experience; Chief DePew has 15. Ohio was one of the spring session’s most represented states with seven officers present — four from the Cleveland area, two from the Columbus area, and DePew representing the Cincinnati area. Due to demand, on average, officers face a five-year wait period between being accepted into the program and actually attending a session.
DePew applied in early 2015 and began his session in April of this year.
Training for the program is provided by the FBI Academy instructional staff, special agents, and other staff members holding advanced degrees, many of whom are recognized internationally in their fields of expertise.
“The classes are all through the University of Virginia,” DePew said, “so as far as the structure goes, it’s just like going back to college, just more intensive. You get a course catalog, you pick your classes, and academically, the standards are very high.”
“A class that was just fascinating,” he said, “was a forensic science course where we studied high-profile cases most of us have seen on TV handled by other police units or the FBI. We got to look at the Boston Marathon bombing and see what the Boston P.D. did and what they learned. We looked at historic cases like the O.J. Simpson case. They took us really in-depth, and we got to see what law enforcement did well and things they could’ve been better on.”
A tour of the FBI crime lab was a major highlight.
“For a guy coming from Eaton,” he said, “it was a great opportunity. One of the neatest parts of the crime lab was their gun vault. They have weapons from pretty much every period, and guns from the 1920s and ’30s they seized from Al Capone and famous mobsters. It’s probably the largest gun collection in the world. Because they have to be able to do ballistics reports and run analytics on firearms, they basically have to have one example of every kind of gun. They also had mockups where they’d recreated devices used by the Unabomber and the Boston Marathon bomber and others, so they could see how they worked. Those were interesting, but they were also used to teach us how situations like those work and what to watch out for.
“The work they do there is incredible,” DePew said. “I’ve been in law enforcement 15 years, and it really gave me a different perspective of the FBI and what they’re all about.”
The physical training element was a steep additional challenge. Regular workouts and fitness challenges were scheduled, and at the end of the eighth week, students were signed up for a mile run challenge. Those who ran a mile in under 10 minutes qualified to run the ‘Yellow Brick Road,’ a 6.1 mile obstacle course used by the U.S. Marines.
DePew, who ran the Yellow Brick Road, said, “It was great that the Marines let us utilize that for our class. It was a wonderful opportunity. The obstacle course itself is really about two miles and is similar to the mud runs you see on TV, out in the woods. Leading up to it, there’s a 2-mile run there and then a 2-mile run back. It was great team building amongst our group, and an honor to be able to run that course that Marines and former FBI Academy officers have run for decades now. There’s a rich history there.”
Even with the formidable experience of the program’s course instructors, DePew learned the most from his classmates.
“I got to work with some people in class I’d never have had the opportunity to meet otherwise,” he said. “There were people from small agencies like ours, and an LAPD commander, a little bit of everybody. There was a broad base of knowledge — somebody did the math, and there were thousands of years of police experience in our class. Being able to hear about all that was amazing. There were people in my class who are dealing with some of the cases you see in the news right now. Hearing their experiences, I learned that, regardless of the size of our agencies, we’ve all mostly gone through the same things.”
The friendships made extended beyond U.S. borders.
“I also became really good friends with an officer who works for the Geneva Police in Switzerland,” he said. “I was a suitemate with a guy who’s in charge of the Danish National Police in Denmark. I can now say that I know cops all over the world. And here’s a good example — we had a student from Panama and another from Colombia. While we were there, the two of them got in the same room and started talking, and they ended up solving a murder case. There was a murder in Panama, and the suspect fled to Colombia, and the two of them being brought together in this class got them talking and they solved a case together.”
The officers in the class also bonded over the drug problems facing communities all over America.
“One of the biggest things I learned,” said DePew of heroin addiction, “is, coast to coast, we’re all dealing with the same thing. It’s literally everywhere. Everyone is having the same struggles and trying to help people. When we live in a community and don’t get outside much, we maybe get a smaller perspective, but I’m learning that it’s not an Eaton problem, not a Preble County problem, not an Ohio problem. Everyone’s trying to geta grip on it, and the places with the success stories aren’t because of law enforcement. They’re the places with great treatment programs and recovery programs in place, that look to be active and expand in areas to help people get treatment.
“We’ve had an increase in vehicle break-ins,” he said of a recent Eaton trend, “and the county’s seen more homes burglarized, and a lot of those crimes and drug addiction go hand in hand. Unfortunately, we’re not unique in that area. On one hand, it’s almost good to know we’re no different from anybody else. But on the other, we still want to try to be better than everyone else. We want our community to be safe, we want to try to rid ourselves of these issues.”
There is a silver lining, DePew said.
“A guy I got to know really well is the community crime control officer in Corpus Christi, Texas, and his job is to be that link to the community that faces problems like this head on with the people. I got some good ideas from him, some things we can maybe do here to make things safer and be more proactive.”
An optional weekend trip to New York City was arranged for students by the New York Police Department. An out-of-pocket excursion unaffiliated with the Academy program, the packed 48-hour visit took the officers on a tour of how the city’s law enforcement operates.
“About half of us went,” DePew said, “and to say the NYPD rolled out the red carpet for us is an understatement. We were on charter buses, and everywhere we went, the NYPD gave us a police escort. Saturday morning, they took us to their emergency services unit, a former airport they took over to house all their specialized equipment. The bomb squad, the S.W.A.T. team, the motorcycle unit, all that equipment is housed there, and they did demonstrations for us. They brought out the K-9 unit, the mounted patrol, they put a couple of boats out on the water and three helicopters in the air. The NYPD has about as many helicopters as Eaton has cruisers, so it was remarkable to see.”
The weekend in New York also included a dinner during which the Pipes and Drums of the Emerald Society gave a surprise performance, a tour of NYPD headquarters, a visit to the World Trade Center and the 9/11 museum, and Coast Guard harbor tour that drove around the Statue of Liberty and under the Brooklyn Bridge.
The commencement ceremony culminated with a speech by FBI director James Comey.
“Meeting him was one of those things you just can’t believe is happening,” DePew said. “He’s really down to earth. This guy is running the FBI, and probably five different times he found time to stop by our classes and talk with us and see how things were going and what we were learning. I had an chance to speak with him one on one for a while, and we just talked about the Cleveland Cavaliers. He’s a Cavs fan. It really meant a lot that with everything he does, he made that kind of time for us and really made us feel welcome and important.”
Still, 10 weeks away from home is a long time when you have a family and love your job. Chief DePew says he’s returned with new energy and appreciation for his role in the community.
He said, “I came back with new knowledge and skills and a fresh perspective, and so really, the biggest thing to consider is how to implement these things. I think the answer is to do that slowly. I’m proud to say of the people here — not just our police, but our community — there are a lot of things we do well. There was never a situation at the Academy where I thought, ‘Wow, we really need to change this,’ or, ‘We’re doing things we shouldn’t be doing.’ It was always ‘Wow, let’s try these new ideas and see what happens.’ I’m a little biased, of course, and I think a lot of this unit and this city, but we’re very blessed here. I learned some things, though, that I think can really help us in the long run.”
“It was an enriching experience,” he said. “For City Council to let me attend that and be gone for so long was a big commitment and challenge for them, but thankfully, we have a great group here, and two sergeants who were able to run the show while I was gone. I’ve come back with a fresh outlook and some things that will continue to make Eaton a great police division and a great place to live.”
Reach Duante Beddingfield at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @duanteb_RH.