NIA sends off 20 members of first graduating class

Posted on by Polk Newsroom

Law enforcement and corrections officers, from agencies large and small, left Polk State’s Center for Public Safety on Nov. 18 equipped with the tools needed to take the next step in their careers and to transform their agencies.

The first National Public Safety Innovation Academy (NIA) graduating class consisted of individuals who successfully completed the eight-week executive-level course. The program was launched in September by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office and Polk State College.

“It’s been a dream of mine for as long as I have been sheriff,” Polk Sheriff Grady Judd said of the command school. “It would not have been possible without the work of (Polk State President Angela Garcia) Falconetti. We worked on this for five years, but she was the one who brought it to a landing.”

The participants from the first graduating class were almost exclusively from Florida. The next cohort, which begins on Jan. 16, will draw from across the country.

“One of my greatest honors as president is to serve alongside our sheriff, Sheriff Grady Judd,” Falconetti said. “I’m grateful for his vision, for the command school, and all of our staff who worked alongside the Polk County Sheriff’s Office to bring this to fruition.”

The STEM-based course will adapt to meet changes in trends and technology moving forward. Over the eight weeks, the participants are given the knowledge to meet and address high-liability situations that agencies face.

“People follow great leaders,” Judd said. “If we’re not leading, we’re allowing others to. We have to equip our leaders with the formal tools for the future. We must be the cream of the crop – not the cream of the crap.”

The NIA program aims to challenge participants mentally and physically, but those weren’t the only challenges over the eight-week course. The first week of class had cancellations related to Hurricane Ian.

“It started with a hurricane, but that didn’t stop us,” said Lt. Fred Jones, a participant from the Lake County Sheriff’s Office. “We forged ahead. It was unlike any class I’ve ever taken before. In this profession, we’re always playing catch-up. This was our chance to get ahead.”

Judd noted that in government, it can be easy to get complacent. For some practices, such as customer service, the sheriff said he looks to the private sector.

“Companies have to compete to survive,” Judd noted. “If they can’t be on the cutting edge, they can’t survive. We must utilize customer service because our customers – your citizens – deserve it.”

Each of the eight weeks goes in-depth on a different relevant topic, led by subject matter experts in the field. Topics include servant leadership, media relations, futuristics, and predictive analysis.

“You heard from some of the best in the field,” Judd told the graduates. “We’re always looking for the best in the field. Any time your folks leave here, they will leave better for their agencies and for their communities. Be a servant leader and not just while you’re at work. Do it the community, at your places of worship, when you’re with your kids because people are watching.”

Over the course of the program, Jones noted that the bond grew stronger between the participants. In addition to the rigorous curriculum, participants must also complete weekly physical training.

“Twenty officers from diverse backgrounds – we had agencies with less than 100 officers to ones with more than 1,500 sworn and we became family,” Jones said. “I will admit that this class came with an increase in Advil, but it was worth it. As we head back to our agencies, I think I speak for all of my classmates when I say we head back with an even greater knowledge and desire to serve our communities.”