Attending the prestigious FBI National Academy was a physical and mental challenge for Hollister Police Chief David Westrick.
Westrick recently sat down to recall the experience after returning in March to his role at the Hollister Police Department. He mentioned how the special academy takes place at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virg. on a Marine base.
“What it is, the top 1 percent, or so they say, of law enforcement executives in the world get a chance to go there after they’re nominated and backgrounded and stuff like that,” Westrick said.
Hollister City Manager Bill Avera nominated him about two years ago, and each FBI office then nominates executives in their area. There were six from the San Francisco FBI office including Westrick, and about 20 in the California delegation, the largest at the session. It also includes international attendees, such as Westrick’s roommate from Spain.
“It was originally, in the 1930s, meant to cross-train police departments, sheriff’s agencies, law enforcement all over the world in the new technology,” Westrick said.
Back then, it was learning about techniques like fingerprinting and collection of evidence. It has evolved into focusing on topics such as leadership, transparency, community policing and handling active shooters.
Before he left, Westrick selected the classes he would take and focused on cyber-terrorism because Hollister is somewhat isolated. He specialized in “industrial control systems” — things like dams or lights at intersections that could serve as vulnerabilities. He also took some leadership courses of interest, he said.
“Just to give you a snapshot in the day of a person that goes to the national academy, you’re housed in the same building as the new agents,” he said.
There were two classes of new agents in the same building and then about 225 National Academy students at the time. As a whole, there are a lot of people training, whether it’s in laboratories on forensics or computers or doing other tasks.
“Academics are absolutely No. 1 there,” he said, adding how classes were from 7:30 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. every day.
He said the cyber-threats class was interesting.
“The book was almost three inches thick. We went through every page,” he said.
Students would often attend seminars and then would be expected to write term papers on them, with the academics done through the University of Virginia.
With some down time on weekends, he got away part of the session, whether it was visiting Washington, D.C. or New York, or surprising his wife with a brief trip home.
Then there was the physical part. His first class was actually physical training.
“I had prepared by going to the gym and running and all the things you’re supposed to do,” he said. “I’m glad I did that.”
He said it was challenging every day and participants had to qualify for physical challenges. Westrick was able to participate in every physical challenge such as the runs or circuit courses. He mentioned that the least number of circuits he could remember in a single circuit-training session was 15.
He had to ride 271 miles on a stationary bike and rowed for 34 miles.
“That was absolutely difficult,” he said.
In qualifying for all the physical challenges, he also qualified for the famed Yellow Brick Road, a 10-K Marines endurance course at the end of the session. He said it was 27 degrees on the day of the run.
“It’s sort of like a Spartan Race,” he said. “There’s a lot of obstacles.”
He recalled a lot of high ropes and the last two miles being uphill.
“The only way I can describe it is, it’s sort of like a Billy goat hill,” he said.
At the end, his wife, daughter and mother flew out for his graduation.
“It was pretty nice,” he said.
He said he brought back a lot of knowledge and ideas to help in this growing area of Hollister.
“I would encourage any executive in law enforcement, if they have the notion to get new ideas, to at least nominate one of the executives in their agency to go,” he said. “I’ve nominated the captain and one of the lieutenants here.”
Westrick credited Capt. Carlos Reynoso for keeping things in order while he was away and said he planned to recognize him soon.