By Nicholas Grube
Triplicate staff writer
Crescent City Police Chief Doug Plack recently joined an exclusive group of crime-fighters that only claim one half of 1 percent of all law enforcement in the entire world.
Membership did not come easy for Plack, who endured 10 weeks of training in Quantico, Va., at a facility known as the "Crossroads of the Marine Corps."
On Dec. 15, 2006, Plack, along with 265 other law enforcement officers, graduated as the 227th Session of the FBI National Academy Program, which gives advanced investigative, management and fitness training to participating officers.
"The resources that I got there were unsurpassed by any other resources I was able to get in the past, throughout my career," Plack said. "I found it to be physically challenging, and I found it to be academically challenging."
At the academy, Plack spent most of his time inside the classroom taking college-level courses in gang development issues, media relations, department management and many other facets of law enforcement.
On a bookshelf behind his desk, Plack has 19 binders filled with notes and information from his classes at the academy, each with its own topic.
"By attending this academy and being entrenched in the learning environment, it offered more insight to me for advanced leadership and management that I could bring back to the Crescent City Police Department and make it a more efficient and effective organization," Plack said.
The academy, he said, gave him the knowledge to improve policing in Crescent City. "It gave me a lot more options than what I had before I left here," he said.
But it was the other officers at the academy that helped him the most.
"You have individuals in there from all throughout the world in that classroom being taught by FBI agents," Plack said. "And it's not just the teaching ability of the instructor, but it's the make-up of the class, of the individuals in there, where you learn a lot.
"You try to learn from everybody else," he said, because "you have over 500 years of experience sitting in that classroom alone."
It's these connections that are the greatest benefit of the program and to the FBI, said Tom Colombell, Executive Director of the FBI National Academy Associates.
"Networking is extremely important," he said. "That's the purpose of the program."
Upon first arriving at the academy, the officers begin connecting with one another, sharing stories and ideas. They can then contact one another and contribute to enforcement. This, Colombell said, increases the effectiveness of a local department no matter the size.
In addition, he said, "It's a great liaison tool for the FBI."
Brookings Chief of Police Chris Wallace, who graduated from the FBI National Academy in 2003, agrees the networking is the most important aspect of the program.
"Basically the fundamental principle of the academy is the networking," he said. "It gives you a real insight into different (departmental) philosophies" and helps create new ways of combating old problems.
In Crescent City, Plack said he wants to impart his FBI training on his officers to make them better and improve the community.
"Even though I had the opportunity to go," he said. "Everybody needs to learn from it."
"The information that I've gleaned," Plack said, "will run down to my officer on the street."
One major issue Plack said he wanted to focus on at the FBI National Academy was how to effectively combat drugs.
"My main purpose (at the academy) was the drugs in the community, and to see how we could alleviate some of the issues that are facing the community.
"We need to curtail the use of drugs because it affects us in so many different facets," Plack said. "Not only law enforcement, but also your social services, your follow-up investigations and your child-protection services. It's right across the board. Particularly with this meth issue, we need to combat it head-on."
Aside from drugs Plack said he also wanted to learn more about domestic terrorism, particularly that involved with gang activity.
"We need to deal with the possibility of a criminal influx of gangs and wannabes," he said, saying that most of Crescent City's problems stem from wannabes rather than actual gang members.
Sergeant Garrett Scott, Plack's replacement while he was at the academy, said he and the chief "certainly discussed some of these ideas."
"Now that the chief's back, he made it clear he's going to give us the training he received at the academy," Scott said. "What I see for the community, is that we will have a much more enhanced way of dealing with crime."
The FBI National Academy started in 1935 with 23 students. The idea behind its inception was to standardize law enforcement departments across the U.S. with centralized training.
Today, the FBI National Academy hosts four 10-week sessions a year, inviting approximately 250 officers per session. After the graduation of the 227th Session, 39,999 people have completed the training.
To attend, officers must be nominated by their superiors, or a governmental official. In addition officers must meet the minimum requirements:
At least 25-years-old
Five years of full-time officer duty
Excellent physical condition
Excellent character and reputation
High school diploma or general equivalency degree
Interest in law enforcement as a public service
Agreement to serve at least three more years in law enforcement.