SCHENECTADY -- Police Chief Eric Clifford will be in Quantico, Virginia until mid-December, but it isn’t for any sort of vacation.
Clifford was selected to participate in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Academy where members of various law enforcement agencies across the world receive training from members of the federal agency. The program is invitation only, and you must be nominated by the head of the law enforcement agency to attend.
Sarah Ruane, public affairs specialist for the FBI Albany Field Office, said those ranked lieutenant and above are chosen to participate in the program, and they must plan to stay in law enforcement for the next three years after graduating from the program.
The class Clifford is in involved in runs from Oct. 1 until Dec. 14. Once Clifford completes the 10-week program, he will receive a certificate signed by FBI Director Christopher Wray, according to Ruane.
While he is away, Assistant Chief Michael Seber has stepped in as acting chief, Clifford said in an interview conducted via email.
“I would like to thank Mayor [Gary] McCarthy, Commissioner [Michael] Eidens, my command staff, and all members of the Schenectady Police Department for their support for me while I attend this highly regarded training,” Clifford said in his email.
Clifford said the training, as well as lodging and meals, are free. It will cost the department approximately $1,500 in travel expenses, which he said was budgeted for 2018.
“I consciously did not go to other conferences that I would have normally attended based on choosing to go to this training,” Clifford said.
The program includes taking different classes on topics that range from terrorism to forensic science. They will also hear from a host of speakers who were involved in major national events, such as the 2012 school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School and the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.
For the final test of the program, participants take a 6.1-mile run referred to as The Yellow Brick Road. It was named that because of the yellow bricks that are placed along the way to show people what direction to run in, according to the FBI’s website.
The course is not a typical one.
It was one that was designed by the U.S. Marine Corps. Runners will have to go through obstacles such as climbing over walls, scaling rock faces with ropes and crawling under barbed wire through muddy water, according to the FBI’s website.
If runners successfully complete the course, they receive an actual Yellow Brick Road brick to honor their accomplishment.
Clifford said he was approached about participating in the program by an FBI special agent while he was still a detective lieutenant. He wasn’t able to attend then, but was asked again after he was appointed chief.
Late Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett, who died in 2017, nominated Clifford to attend the academy.
It wasn’t until a year and a half later that Clifford was told he was selected to attend the 2018 fall class.
Clifford said he is currently taking classes in psychology of leadership, intelligence theory, managing the law enforcement image and executive leadership skills. Intelligence theory, Clifford said, is about intelligence-led policing. The class on managing the law enforcement image is focused on messaging for the agency using traditional media, social media and community engagement, Clifford said.
Clifford added that because he has a master’s degree in public administration, he was limited in what classes he could take because many of them are at the bachelor’s degree level.
“My classes are at the master’s degree level and I get credit for them through the University of Virginia,” Clifford said.
Many of the classes involve what was included in a 2015 report from a task force put together by former President Barack Obama on 21st Century Policing. It was a report intended to lay out best practices for police departments, with the goal of improving community policing and strengthening trust between the community and the police.
Clifford said he has learned that there is a lot that Schenectady does well, but he admitted there are areas the department can improve. He said he even met a captain from the New York City Police Department with whom he plans to pick his brain regarding his department’s neighborhood policing plan.
“Many of the issues in our community that we deal with that frustrate us can be solved,” Clifford said. “I plan to bring the ideas and possible solutions back and work with members of the organization to strategize solutions that work for us, and then implement them.”
Clifford declined to get into specifics about what changes he thinks could be made, as he said he wants to discuss them with the department first.
Eidens said he is pleased to hear Clifford is enrolled in the program. He said Clifford has been keeping in touch daily through email and phone calls about day-to-day operations of the department.
“I look forward to speaking with Chief Clifford when he gets back about the details of what he’s learning about, and his thoughts and plans, so we can tackle some of these issues and address any concerns in a very positive way,” Eidens said.
Clifford said he plans to share his experiences at the FBI through his various social media platforms. He said he also stays connected to what goes on in the department, and the community, while he is away.
As for the Yellow Brick Road run, he is currently in preparation for that.
“I am working hard (literally) training for it and plan to bring the yellow brick back with me,” Clifford said. “It will be a nice capstone to this journey.”