First NIA cohort features 21 graduates from eight different states

Posted on by Polk Newsroom

The members of the first National Public Safety Innovation Academy (NIA) class have returned to their communities with the knowledge and skills to transform their organizations and deliver results.

The 21 members of the cohort graduated from NIA at the Polk State College Center for Public Safety on March 10. NIA is an eight-week executive-level STEM-based course launched in partnership between Polk State and the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, for law enforcement and corrections personnel to take the next step in their careers.

“I want you to know how proud I am of each and every one of you for continuing to hone your skills,” said Polk State President Angela Garcia Falconetti who delivered the graduation’s keynote. “You have the ability to change lives. I want to thank you for choosing Polk State for this National Public Safety Innovation Academy. It’s such an honor to invest in your leadership. Polk State will always be here for you.”

The first cohort had participants from eight different states, four different time zones, and of six different ranks. It featured participants from Florida, Arizona, Alaska, Michigan, Idaho, Texas, Utah, and Virginia. Over the eight weeks, participants learned from renowned subject matter experts from across the country on a variety of topics that help participants craft innovative procedures to address and direct high-liability situations that agencies face today.

“Our first day at the academy, we met with Sheriff (Grady) Judd and he told us about his vision for a command school based on STEM with an emphasis on the community,” said Lt. Christopher Ball, a participant from the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office who served as the class speaker. “This is that command school.”

One of just three national command schools in the U.S., NIA challenges participants both mentally and physically. Participants take part in functional fitness curriculum, facilitated by Auburndale-based Ultra Fit.

“When my agency sent me here, I didn’t know if it was to make me a better leader or to assassinate me – the jury is still out,” Ball joked. “A lot was packed into eight weeks. I want to thank my classmates for all the memories made. Your knowledge and experience have been equally as impactful as the many things we have learned here.”

Ball mentioned several topics covered during the eight weeks, including emotional empathy in law enforcement, the future of law enforcement technology, media relations, and critical incident debriefs. To show their gratitude, graduates presented plaques of appreciation to Garcia Falconetti, Ultra Fit, Capt. Theresa Garcia of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office and Director of Polk State’s Kenneth C. Thompson Institute of Public Safety, and NIA Coordinator Sgt. Kelly Wedley.

“Every time a graduate leaves this course, they take these tools with them,” Capt. Garcia told the graduates. “We challenge you to be servant leaders. We challenge you to lead with integrity and a vision for the future. Polk State College is proud of you. I’m proud of you.”

As trends change in law enforcement, corrections, and technology, NIA will adapt to meet the needs of leaders in the ever-changing world of criminal justice. The next cohort begins on Sept. 18. More information and registration is available at

“This command school has been a vision of Sheriff Judd’s for as long as he’s been sheriff,” Capt. Garcia said. “Thanks to the vision of Dr. Falconetti and the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, we created the best command school in the country.”