The Path to Success
Paducah Police Chief Brandon Barnhill once was a rookie officer who spent his time on the streets, working various shifts, as a patrol officer for the city of Murray and then Paducah. But even then, he had a dream.
To attain his dream, Barnhill worked a game plan when he first joined law enforcement some 22 years ago.
“My first goal was to put 100-percent effort into what I was asked or assigned to do,” the chief said. “By doing so, I always felt that it would help me overcome some of my shortcomings in other areas such as age, experience, and subject knowledge.”
But sometimes life gets in the way of the best laid plans, the chief said.
“Life throws you curveballs from time-to-time and you must be able to adjust,” Barnhill said. “I must say that although I have not always gotten positions or promotions when I first applied for them or been selected for a coveted position when I thought I deserved it, nothing kept me from pursuing my dreams.”
One of the tools Barnhill used to realize his dreams was the Office of Kentucky Law Enforcement Council Support’s Career Development Program.
“I began in Murray and Paducah as a patrol officer,” Barnhill said. “In 1999, I was selected to be a criminal-investigations detective. During the next few years, I jumped back and forth within divisions, promoting to various positions within the department.”
Over the course of his police career, Barnhill earned CDP certifications in Intermediate Law Enforcement, Advanced Law Enforcement, Law Enforcement Officer Investigator, Advanced Investigator, Law Enforcement Supervisor, Law Enforcement Manager and Law Enforcement Executive.
While those certifications were not the be all, end all of career progression, it certainly helped the process, Barnhill said, who was promoted to police chief in 2013.
“CDP is not all inclusive for promotion or success, however, it does provide sound advice and guidance to assist officers in making good career choices and decisions during their careers,” Barnhill said. “I used the great advice from leaders and mentors in our agency, combined with the program guide and advice from Joe Boldt to determine how to proceed in the program.”
For Hopkinsville Police Dispatch Supervisor Stephanie Noel, CDP is a tool that helped her succeed in her profession.
“I’m not going to say I wouldn’t be here without the certifications, however, I can say it has assisted me along the way and has helped set me up for success by the confidence and knowledge they have provided me,” said Noel, who has been with the agency 19 years. “It has added extra tools to my tool belt to assist in being a better leader, motivator, problem-solver and overall person.”
During her career, Noel has earned certifications in Advanced Public Safety Dispatcher, Communications Training Officer and Public Safety Dispatch Supervisor. She will start her career track for Public Safety Dispatch Manager/Director in November.
Barnhill and Noel’s stories, and ones like it, are music to the ears of Boldt, OKLECS program coordinator, who has overseen CDP since its infancy in 2003.
When discussing the program, Boldt is quick to insert a witticism from New York Yankee legend Yogi Berra, who once said, “You have to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.”
That quote is a favorite of Boldt. He often brings it up when he talks about career paths for law enforcement and public safety dispatch members.
“Thisprogram keeps the officer or dispatcher goal-oriented and focused on the training process, and it helps answer the question of ‘Where am I going in my career?’” Boldt said.
CDP is a professional-certificate program that encourages law enforcement officers and public safety dispatchers to plan and organize their annual training to correlate an individual’s career goal.
The program provides structure to the training process through career tracking, and it offers career tracks for law enforcement officers and for public safety dispatchers.
For years, OKLECS has offered assistance and training opportunities for law enforcement and dispatchers – through Kentucky’s four law enforcement training academies – who are figuring out which career path to take.
“It places structure and organization on the training process, and takes the guesswork out of which courses to take from year to year,” Boldt said.
Although officers or dispatchers can enter the program at any point in their careers, Boldt said the earlier the better.
“I would encourage it right from the beginning of one’s career to get enrolled and start working toward one’s first certificate,” he said. “I have had officers and dispatchers who are in their last year before retirement and want to see which certificates they may have earned during their careers. As long as the officer or dispatcher still is working and has an active Peace Officer Professional Standards or Telecommunicator Professional Standards certification, they can enroll in CDP.”
Career Path Factors
Many things determine a person’s career path. Those variables include the needs and functions of the organization.
“It’s usually up to the individual, but it also kind of depends on the way the chief or sheriff manages,” Boldt said. “Some places need certain things for their agency, so they may be more direct toward what this person needs to be doing in their career path. Others may leave it more up to them (individual). An organization might need traffic control or it might need an investigator or someone to work crime-scenes. It’s the working relationship between the individual officer and the needs of the department.”
Wilmore Police Chief Bill Craig said CDP training is invaluable, and his Jessamine County agency tries its best to accommodate an officer’s wants, while at the same time making sure the agency’s needs are met.
“It’s a mixture of both,” Craig said. “If I have an officer who wants to take a course like investigations, but they’re not really working investigations, I don’t have a problem with them taking that to prepare for the future. If there is a demand for the city of Wilmore [and] if I have an officer interested in that [specific career track], then I would recommend he or she look into it and take the courses. The agency comes first, then the officer’s desire and future needs.”
Danville Police Chief Anthony Gray Jr., echoed Craig’s sentiments.
“When you’re an officer going through the courses and you’re getting the pins and trying to develop your career path, as a supervisor and leader, you try to mirror the pins to where the officers are in their careers,” Gray said. “We are big on training. We’ve tried to push our men and women into areas where we think they’ll be successful and the career-development pins help steer them down the right path.”
Craig said departments such as his – which has nine full-time and two part-time officers – often are stepping stones for young officers who eventually will move on to larger departments. Having said that, the chief continues to support CDP, even if it means young officers under his charge could move on.
“To me, that’s not a factor,” Craig said, “if an [officer] wants to go on and get the career-path certificate. My big thing is the officer taking the self-initiative to pursue a career path, and to me that’s important. I will not hold an officer back.”
“Within the Law Enforcement Officer track, OKLECS offers nine certificates that represent the patrol, investigations and traffic career paths,” Boldt said. “Under the Law Enforcement Management track, OKLECS offers four additional certificates that equate to the various levels of the command structure: supervisor, manager, executive and chief executive. Those are your sergeants, lieutenants, captains and chiefs or sheriffs.”
On the public safety dispatcher side, there are five certificates, including two management tracks – Public Safety Dispatch Supervisor and Public Safety Dispatch Manager/Director.
Winchester Police Communications Supervisor Rhonda Rogers said from a dispatcher’s perspective, the certifications transform dispatching from a run-of-the-mill job to a satisfying career.
“You will find that the people who are working toward and have earned these certifications are leaders within the telecommunications field,” Rogers said. “Each certification helps make telecommunications more of a career rather than just a job. Every career takes some sort of investment; taking these courses is merely an investment toward their telecommunications career.”
Danville Capt. Glenn Doan added that thinking outside the box is also a good when it comes to career development.
“I took more tactical and defensive tactics-oriented classes. I got good training and went to a lot of good courses,” he said. “When I started looking at career development, I knew I had to branch out. Anytime you branch out from your comfort zone, you’re going to learn, and it helped me to become more well-rounded. Now I’m into the leadership focus part of it.”
Hopkinville’s Noel said the most important factor about CDP is taking what you’ve learned in a classroom setting and applying it to the field.
“The knowledge I have gained through this program has helped tremendously,” she said, adding that the courses she’s taken have helped with everything from supervisory skills, to the day-to-day communication center operations.
“It has taught me how to deal with subordinates effectively and how to motivate them by adapting the appropriate leadership style to the demands of the situation,” Noel said.
The programs all are voluntary, and there is no additional cost for Kentucky officers or organizations to follow a specific track.
“The only cost is time to fill out the paperwork,” Boldt said.
The intermediate and advanced law enforcement officer certifications are among the most popular on the law enforcement side, he added.
“These certificates require the completion of training hours in technical, human or conceptual skills,” Boldt said. “There are a variety of courses that emphasize the technical and human skills, but I will say there are fewer courses to choose from in conceptual skills. For those who wish to earn their Advanced Law Enforcement certificate, it may be a little more difficult to locate a course that satisfies this requirement.”
The OKLECS website is the first step in the process.
“The first form I need is the participation form,” Boldt said. “That has a check list of all of the certificates the officer or dispatcher can achieve. The chief or sheriff signs, because we want the agency heads to know their officer or dispatcher has signed up for the program.”
There are three requirements for achieving certificates, Boldt said. Those requirements are training, education and experience.
Training must be OKLECS approved and experience must be full-time only. Additionally, courses for CDP are chosen by consulting the schedule books of the corresponding academies.
“Some certificates require a certain number of hours, say, in technical, human or conceptual skills,” Boldt said. “So if the applicant has a need to pick up some hours within a particular skill, then they simply would consult the schedule book under the course descriptions where they can find the CDP skill classification.”
Boldt said most often, young officers will begin within the patrol career path, and he would advise them to begin with the Intermediate Law Enforcement Officer certificate, which is the prerequisite for the Advanced Patrol Officer certificate.
For a young dispatcher, the starting point would be the Intermediate Public Safety Dispatcher certificate, which opens the door for the Advanced Public Safety Dispatcher certificate.
“In most cases, the certificate requirements will keep the officer and dispatcher busy for a few years while they complete the requirements of training, experience and education,” Boldt said.
The programs offered by OKLECS build off one another, similar to how a freshman in college goes from a 101 course to advanced-level courses to obtain their desired degree.
“The program was designed in some ways to require certain types of training before moving on to other types,” Boldt said.
For instance, the Intermediate Law Enforcement Certificate requires 96 hours of training in technical skill and 64 hours in human skill training. Boldt said that makes sense because two vital skills a beginning patrol officer must possess are technical – a knowledge of operational and tactical abilities – and human skills, which incorporate skills in cultural diversity, communication and interviewing.
“The next logical step in the patrol path would be to earn the advanced officer, which requires an additional 64 hours of technical- and human-skill courses, as well as 32 hours in conceptual training, which presents courses that touch on leadership, organizing, planning or sharpening one’s abstract thinking abilities,” Boldt said. “All skills one would expect from an advanced patrol officer.”
Berea Police Capt. Kenneth Puckett said one of the biggest advantages of the program is it keeps officers focused on their goals.
“They keep you on the same career path,” he said. “Instead of taking a bunch of different classes, you start taking what is in your career path. If your focus is patrol, then you will start taking all of the patrol-level classes, or if you’re a detective, then you’re going to focus on all of the detective-level classes.”
Beyond Law Enforcement and Dispatching
The certifications also serve officers and dispatchers well when they retire or leave the field.
“Common sense would dictate that more credentials and certifications behind one’s name may help,” Boldt said. “If I had two job candidates to choose from and both were equally qualified in all aspects, except one had participated in CDP and taken the time and effort to organize and plan their training and education over the course of their career, I would most likely choose that person for the job.”
DOCJT Instructor Shawn Moore, who teaches in the Special Topics Section of the Criminal Investigations Branch, agreed with Boldt’s assessment.
Moore, a 13-year law enforcement veteran with the Richmond and Eastern Kentucky University police departments, said his CDP certifications set him apart from others seeking the position.
“Fortunately, I was a graduate of the Kentucky Criminalistics Academy Crime-Scene Technicians course,” he said. “As a graduate, I also was a certified crime-scene technician through OKLECS’s Career Development Program. Since the job description included all of the items covered in the certification through CDP, I feel that gave me an advantage when applying for the position. After I was hired, they made no secret of the fact that because of my training, field experience and the certification I received because of KCA, I was a top candidate for the job.”
Moore said his certification has paid huge dividends both as an officer and now as an instructor.
“Most importantly, the certifications have allowed me to feel confident teaching officers from across Kentucky,” he said. “The certifications add a certain level of reliability and validity when it comes to teaching officers who have just as much, if not more, experience in law enforcement as I do. One thing you can say about law enforcement officers throughout the state is they are sharp and they can tell if you know what you are talking about when you are in front of a class. The certifications I have, along with the field experience, go a long way in showing [I am] qualified to instruct. I feel that is something that has helped me throughout my career.”
Sarah Powell, a telecommunicator instructor at DOCJT, said the benefits of certifications are many.
“It always looks good on a resume for the future if you go to another agency,” Powell said.
Another benefit is it encourages officers and dispatchers to earn college degrees, she said.
“That’s the reason why I was able to get them (her certifications) so quickly,” Powell said. “I didn’t graduate, but I had two years of college under my belt. So I got points from that, and my supervisor I worked for at that time was very proactive. I went through the academy before it was mandatory; all of us did.”
Prior to working as an instructor at DOCJT, Powell served as a dispatcher for the Lawrenceburg Police Department in Anderson County for eight years. She’s been with DOCJT for seven years.
She said most of the state’s 77 dispatch agencies have taken advantage of CDP.
Boldt said many agencies throughout the state also offer financial incentives for officers and dispatchers who earn different certifications.
Ashland Police Chief Todd Kelly said the city has offered bonuses for seven years.
“You have to be employed at least one year,” Kelly said. “After a certain amount of time, depending on the classes and criteria you’ve met to get the certifications, Ashland gives $100 for each certification up to $500. Some of us have gone beyond just to have them. However, the city has agreed to the incentive to further your expertise.”
Kelly said the local Fraternal Order of Police chapter worked out the incentive program in its collective-bargaining agreement with the city of Ashland, adding the program has served as a win-win for the city and its officers.
Berea Police Chief David Gregory said his city has a policy that financially rewards officers for completing certifications.
According to Berea’s policy, the first certificate earned under the CDP program will net an officer a 25-cent per hour raise.
“For all subsequent certificates, the officer will receive a one-time payment of $700 for each certificate earned, that will be added to their next regular pay,” the policy reads.
Gray, whose agency gives a $500 bonus for each certificate earned, said the incentive helps motivate officers to seek out the training.
“Former Danville Chief Jeff Peek put that in sometime around the start of the program,” Gray said. “He was big on the CDP program and I was his administrative sergeant then, so I was in charge of training. I started doing a lot of the work and scheduling people to go to the classes to get their pins.”
Danville’s Doan quipped that the bonus plan has officers clamoring for the classes.
“They would take four or five classes a year, and if you’d let them go to in-service training once a month, they’d go, especially when you start putting an incentive on training,” Doan said.
Powell said many 911 agencies also are offering incentives.
“Some agencies offer incentives for getting certifications, some will offer a raise, some make it a requirement for promotion and some will give extra days off for the person,” she said.
Rogers said Winchester was the first dispatch center in the state to offer an incentive program, and it has gone over well with the dispatchers.
“I encourage all my dispatchers to sign up for as many classes as possible to obtain their certifications,” she said. “Knowledge is power, and I want all of our employees to be the best they can be. The city of Winchester gives step raises for each certificate that is earned. We, as a communications center, take great pride in this program.”
Boldt said CDP has proven itself to be an invaluable resource for officers and dispatchers.
“Sometimes choosing a career path is like deciding which direction to go,” he said. “In these cases, I usually heed Yogi’s advice, which is, ‘When you come to a fork in the road, take it.’”