Article by Roger Starkey - The Metro Independent
Asst. Police Chief Tom Coppotelli becomes
6th CPD graduate of FBI National Academy
Less than 1 percent of law enforcement officers in the United States are graduates of the FBI’s National Academy. When Assistant Police Chief Tom Coppotelli recently crossed the finish line of the 6.1-mile “Yellow Brick Road,” he became the sixth graduate produced by the 43-man Collinsville Police Department.
The FBI National Academy is a 10-week program at the FBI’s Quantico, Va. campus designed for law enforcement leaders around the world. The purpose, according to the FBI website, is to raise law enforcement standards, knowledge, and cooperation worldwide. Only those with a rank of lieutenant or above are eligible to be nominated.
“It’s not designed for people who are hands on,” Coppotelli said. “It’s for people who are managing.”
After attendees are nominated by their departments, they must go through three more reviews before being accepted into an academy class. In addition to recommendations and a full background check, applicants must prove they are physically fit.
The academy has an extensive curriculum in law, behavioral science, forensic science, understanding terrorism/terrorist mindsets, leadership development, communication, and health/fitness, but the most beneficial aspect, Coppotelli said, was the chance to spend 10 weeks talking shop.
“Being there with the law enforcement officials…that was probably the most useful tool,” Coppotelli said. “You really get into some in-depth conversations about the way they do things in their agencies.”
The relationships built will also allow Coppotelli to contact any of his fellow graduates to discuss policies and procedures to learn if there are ways the Collinsville Police Department can improve.
“No matter how good you think your agency is, there is always room for improvement,” Coppotelli said. “You always have to be a change agent, you can’t become stagnant.”
With about 20 foreign students from at least 10 countries in his graduating class, Coppotelli will be able to gain insight from law enforcement agencies all over the world.
Collinsville Police Chief Steve Evans, himself an FBI National Academy graduate from his days with the Fairview Heights Police Department, agreed that the relationships built at the academy are invaluable. Graduates have a large network of colleagues they can turn to with questions about dealing with a particular situation.
“There are very few things we deal with as an agency that somebody, somewhere hasn’t come across before,” Evans said.
In the classroom, the most helpful courses Coppotelli took were about managing death investigations and how to handle officer involved shootings, he said. An active member of the Major Case Squad of Greater St. Louis, managing death investigations helped Coppotelli with part of his job that he practices frequently. The officer involved shooting course was helpful in a different way.
“We are fortunate, we don’t get involved in a lot of police involved shootings, in the entire area, not just here,” Coppotelli said. “But, when you don’t get involved in a lot of situations like that is when there is more of a need to train.”
As part of the courses, students would detail how, using their department’s policy manual, they would handle a hypothetical situation. The review of the manuals helped many students understand what their departments were doing well and what needed to be improved upon, Coppotelli said.
The final test of the fitness challenge is the “Yellow Brick Road.” The 6.1- mile path is part obstacle course that winds through a hilly, wooded trail. The Marines, who build the trail, put yellow bricks in the wooded area to mark the path – and a nickname for the course was born.
Students who finish the final test of the fitness challenge are given a yellow brick. Coppotelli has two. He first went to the academy in September 2013, but was sent home after one week when non-essential functions of the federal government shut down. His fellow officers fashioned a phony FBI National Academy brick to congratulate him on completing 1/10th of the course work.
Coppotelli became the sixth person sent from the Collinsville Police Department to graduate from the academy. Two have moved on to become a police chief with another department. Scott Williams is now Collinsville’s City Manager.
Assistant Police Chief David Roth and Lt. Richard Wittenauer join Coppotelli and Evans to give Collinsville four FBINA graduates, roughly 10 percent of the department. That Collinsville has such a high rate is a tribute to the department, Evans said.
“That says a lot about the department’s policy of keeping the guys trained,” Evans said.
Collinsville Assistant Police Chief Tom Coppotelli displays his yellow brick from the FBI National Academy (left) and the one he received as a joke from colleagues when a partial government shutdown ended his first trip to the academy after only one week / Photo by Roger Starkey