LaGRANGE — For 10 weeks this summer, Chief Deputy Jon Whitney with the Troup County Sheriff’s Office sat in a class next to some of the top law enforcement leaders from around the world.
He was one of 220 people selected to attend the prestigious FBI National Academy on the FBI campus in Quantico, Virginia. Whitney graduated on Friday and returned to TCSO on Monday.
“I’m very humbled by the experience,” Whitney said. “We (the participants) were one half of the top 1 percent of the law enforcement executives in the world.”
Whitney is Troup County Sheriff James Woodruff’s “right- hand man” in the office. He supervises all the department’s divisions, including the jail, the government center and patrol. He ensures the day to day operations with sheriff’s department run smoothly, helps Woodruff hire new deputies and supports investigators out on crime scenes.
Whitney’s leadership role is one of the many reasons he was nominated to attend the FBI National Academy.
All candidates of the academy must be recommended by a leader in law enforcement and then invited by administrators with the academy, according to the FBI website. There is a waiting list and candidates can sometimes wait years to receive their appointment, said Whitney.
“The sheriff called me the first week I was there to see how I was doing. I said I feel like I’m a freshman and a rookie at the same time,” Whitney said with a laugh. “It’s rush, rush, rush … and it’s an all-star group. These are the top leaders. … I’m grateful the sheriff let me go there for 10 weeks.”
While at the academy, participants attend classes and perform physical assessment training. Each candidate can focus on a certain field of study like forensic science, behavioral science, leadership, communication and fitness, according to the website.
Whitney centered his field of study on intelligence, public speaking, stress management and enhancing leadership skills.
“It was a master’s program and the instructors acted as facilitators,” he explained. “… The class had people from a variety of law enforcement agencies. One guy was with the New York Police Department. Another guy was from Ohio and only had eight officers with his agency. There were different types of leadership … our instructors didn’t tell you what was right or wrong, they showed you how to improve.”
Whitney also learned about emotional intelligence testing.
“Why people act a certain way, which can give you insight when you’re trying to hire someone,” he said. “Are they introverts? Or are they extroverts? You want to get an insight into these peoples core values, not just the technical or tactical aspect.”
The information Whitney learned at the FBI National Academy was aimed at enhancing the servant leadership skills within the sheriff’s department and help deputies interact with people in the community, he said.
“Building those relationships is huge,” Whitney stated. “We need to do more community policing … deputies getting out of their cars and talking to people. Don’t just get out of the car when there’s an issue. If you see someone in their yard, go and talk to them.
“It is the same with the leadership at the sheriff’s office,” he continued. “We don’t need to talk with our staff when something good or bad happens. We need to find out what’s going on with them and with their lives. … I don’t need to have all the answers, I just need to have the right questions to get those answers. … Leadership is a trickle-down effect. … People will watch their managers and follow their lead.”
While the academy classes were intense, Whitney said they also took field trips to places such as National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C., National Museum of the Marine Corps and the Freedom Tower in New York City. The group also toured the hangar that houses the presidential helicopter.
Whitney said the entire experience enhanced his love for the job and his community.
“It recharged my leadership batteries quite a bit. You can’t continue to grow unless you get out and talk to people and get out into the world,” he said. “It teaches you to look at situations from a different perspective … networking was huge up there. Now, I can pick up the phone and call a law enforcement officer from Alaska, Chad, Africa, and Guam … I’m going to miss those folks. I made some friends for life up there. … I was proud to be apart of the academy and take pride in it.”
Whitney will travel back to Quantico on Friday to welcome new candidates starting their 10 week courses in the academy.
Other local graduates from the FBI National Academy include Troup County Sheriff’s Office Chief Investigator Mike Caldwell, LaGrange Public Safety Chief Lou Dekmar, LaGrange Police Capt. Mike Pheil, LaGrange Police Lt. Dale Strickland and West Point Police Chief Tony Bailey.
Melanie Ruberti is a reporter with LaGrange Daily News. She can be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2156.