BUCKHANNON – In the U.S., fewer than one percent of law enforcement officers have the chance to attend the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s renowned National Academy.
Upshur County Sheriff Mike Coffman became a part of that fraction of one percent in September when he graduated from the FBI National Academy nearly a month ago.
According to a press release issued by the FBI National Academy Associates, Inc., Coffman was one of nearly 200 law enforcement officers who graduated Sept. 14 from the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia. The 287th class encompassed women and men from 46 states as well as Washington, D.C., and members of law enforcement agencies from 21 countries, four military organizations and three federal civilian organizations.
The release highlights the prestigiousness of the 10-week academy.
“Internationally known for its academic excellence, the National Academy offers 10 weeks of advanced communication, leadership and fitness training,” it says. “Participants must have proven records as professionals within their agencies to attend.”
To that end, officers must be invited to apply, and then they’re evaluated based on their credentials, experience and applications. Coffman went through the application process with the strong support of his former boss, the late Upshur County Sheriff Virgil Miller.
“I applied back when I was still chief deputy and Sheriff [Virgil] Miller was still with us,” Coffman said. “He was very supportive as I went through the process and wrote letters to help. It ended up that the day of his viewing was the day I got the email, and it said something like, ‘We know it’s terrible timing, but congratulations – you’ve been selected as a nominee.’”
Following that notification is when the academy begins background checks and delves into particulars to verify the nominees are qualified candidates.
“When it really hit me was when they took us in the auditorium on the first day, and we were all sitting there, and they asked, ‘How many people have been waiting 10 years to get in?’ and probably about 15 or 20 hands went up,” Coffman said.
The sheriff said about 40 or 50 of the 199 participants indicated they had been waiting five years or more to gain admission to the academy, while he had only been waiting about a year.
FBI Academy instructors, special agents and other experts with advanced degrees in their fields supplied the training, teaching a mix of courses, including undergraduate-level and graduate-level classes. Coffman had to read textbooks, write papers, and complete grueling physical challenges, and by the end, he had earned 18 credit hours of collegiate-level classes.
“It was a very invaluable experience with the instructors because they were FBI agents, and they have been out there and done it,” he said. “There’s so much I am bringing back and sharing with the guys – the deputies – that will be so useful in our investigations.”
One of Coffman’s instructors, for instance, is considered a world-renowned expert in the field of hostage negotiation, having been involved in the 2013 Alabama bunker hostage crisis involving Jimmy Lee Dykes and the 1993 Waco, Texas siege of the Branch Davidians’ compound.
Coffman’s class in forensics, the scientific methods and tests utilized in the detection of crime, topped his list of favorite courses.
“We had an FBI agent who had been there for 50 years as our instructor, and he was just a wealth of knowledge,” he said. “He took us to the lab, and we got to see comparisons in the microscopes of the tool marks. It was just absolutely invaluable training – the best I’ve ever had, by far.”
The sheriff thanked his officers, tax deputies and staff for holding down the fort while he was out of the office.
“I was in contact with the office multiple times a day, and I appreciate the effort of the guys and all the staff and tax deputies,” Coffman said. “Everybody worked really well together while I was gone. I was hesitant about going, being new to the role of sheriff, but this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”