Jason Peckenpaugh | December 1, 2003 | 0 Comments

Training Day

Uncle Sam's police academy works around the clock to train new federal cops.

OK, here I go," says a young federal agent in training, plowing into a scrum of hungry cops to grab a slice of pecan pie. In the bustling cafeteria at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Ga., soaring enrollment has turned lunch into a something of a contact sport. After eating, some trainees will move to the center's crowded computer labs, while others will go to one of the 28 temporary trailers brought in to add classroom and work space after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. FLETC (pronounced "flet-see"), as the training agency is known, is full to the brim.

Before they make their first arrest, most federal law enforcement officers learn their trade at FLETC, either at the flagship campus in Glynco or at centers in Artesia, N.M., and Cheltenham, Md. The Glynco campus is a kind of touchstone for many federal cops. They begin their careers there, and return over the years for more advanced training, stopping for a drink at Pam's, a nearby bar, or to buy some gear at Sally's Cop Shop, the boutique run by Chong Sally Pak, a Korean immigrant, with legions of cop friends. "You'll never get me to say a bad word about Sally," says a veteran federal agent.

FLETC was created in 1970, when officials consolidated the separate training fiefdoms that had taken root at federal law enforcement agencies. But consolidation always had its limits. The FBI never sent its agents to FLETC, and the Drug Enforcement Agency pulled out in 1985. Today, many of the center's 75 partner agencies maintain their own academies at FLETC to provide agency-specific training.

But the consolidated model-where agencies use FLETC facilities and rely on its 603 instructors to teach many courses-is widely viewed as a success. "You ask anyone what the reputation of FLETC training is. It's very strong," says Dave Palmatier, director of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Academy at FLETC.

Typically, new officers take one of FLETC's bread-and-butter introductory courses, such as the nine-week primer on criminal investigation, and then move to agency-specific studies. Teaching duties are split between FLETC instructors and agency personnel, and the division is not always seamless. This fall, FLETC and the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection jostled over whether FLETC lawyers would teach the law portion of CBP's new training course for inspectors at ports of entry. "FLETC has expressed a desire to teach some of the course and we've been frank, but very polite, to say we prefer to stay with our attorneys," says John McKay, director of the CBP Academy at FLETC.

FLETC officials schedule all training, forcing them to balance the priorities of partner agencies. Agency officials say that makes for an uneasy marriage. "It's not a perfect relationship, I'll be honest," says Palmatier. "People want control over their training programs. There's a constant tension as it relates to that control."


The federal homeland security reorganization has tested this relationship in new ways. When the Transportation Security Administration wanted to train thousands of criminal investigators at Glynco, FLETC bought a 20-acre property in a nearby industrial park, only to have TSA scrap its hiring plans. "Originally, when TSA was created, they were going to have a large cadre of law enforcement officers and agents," says Connie Patrick, FLETC's director. "I think their vision has changed over time."

After Sept. 11, FLETC ramped up operations overnight to help TSA train more air marshals. Now, the two agencies are scrambling to provide commercial airline pilots with firearms training at the Artesia campus. FLETC also has helped CBP and ICE develop training for new officers, a key part of their internal reorganization.

Patrick, FLETC's first female director, says her agency is a "very dynamic organization." But she acknowledges that the past two years have not been easy. When federal law enforcement agencies go on hiring sprees-as most have since Sept. 11-the impact reverberates at FLETC. The agency trained 33,325 people in 2003, up from 25,689 in 2001. The Glynco center has been holding class six days a week since January 2002, putting a strain on employees and facilities. "Believe you me, our staff is still feeling the effects of those terrorist attacks," says Cindy Atwood, FLETC's deputy assistant director for training operations.

FLETC has added more instructors to cope with the workload, including 140 recently retired criminal investigators who were brought in using a special hiring authority that allows retirees to earn a federal salary while keeping their full pensions. The program helped reverse a longstanding shortage of experienced agents on FLETC's staff, says Atwood. It's also popular with retired agents. "It was a good way for me to keep a hand in the game," says Don Glasser, a retired FBI agent who signed on to teach anti-terrorism courses.

The surge in students put the spotlight on FLETC's management practices, some of which have raised eyebrows at the General Accounting Office. The Glynco center uses a largely manual scheduling process, relying on desk calendars and sticky notes to pencil in training times at facilities. FLETC soon will solicit bids for an automated scheduling system, and officials hope to have it up and running two years after the solicitation, says Brad Smith, deputy assistant director of FLETC's Office of Training Management.

Other signs suggest FLETC has suffered from a lack of high-level oversight. The agency has a board of directors made up of senior officials from its partner agencies, but the panel has gone years between meetings. FLETC moved to the Homeland Security Department in March, and sources say it is receiving more attention there than it did in its old home at the Treasury Department. "I think they were doing OK with Treasury . . . but now they're really one of those agencies that people think of first," says Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., in whose district FLETC is located.

When FLETC was part of Treasury, personnel from Treasury agencies always seemed to get the best dorms and classrooms, according to some former Justice Department agents. "FLETC is a fantastic training facility, but there was always the feeling among my classmates and I that Treasury agents were taken care of by FLETC," says a former INS agent who is now in ICE.

One former Justice agency, the Border Patrol, frequently has locked horns with FLETC and now conducts almost all of its training in Charleston, S.C. The dispute dates to 1996, when Congress approved a hiring campaign at the border agency. Because Glynco has few driving courses, which are essential for Border Patrol training, the agency was forced to look elsewhere for training space. The agency has trained 6,770 officers at its Charleston site.

But the Border Patrol will soon come back to Glynco, according to Patrick and other officials. CBP Commissioner Robert Bonner, who oversees the Border Patrol, wants his inspectors and agents to train together. To create more driving space, FLETC will pave over the 9-hole golf course it leases to the nearby city of Brunswick.


Brunswick business leaders have a strong relationship with FLETC, which came to the Glynco site in 1975, setting up shop on a 1,500-acre former Navy base. The city didn't protest when FLETC bought the 20-acre industrial site, which required officials to fence off two city streets so the Glynco campus could remain intact. Local merchants also support training exercises. For example, Ramcor Services Group Inc., a contractor based in Arizona, employs hundreds of part-time "role players" who act the part of criminals and informants in training exercises. To give officers real-world experience in conducting sobriety tests, one exercise requires role players to consume drinks mixed with 80 proof alcohol.

FLETC also relies on a variety of hotels along Interstate 95 to provide extra bed space for trainees. Hotels receive regular payments-on Sept. 15, FLETC sent $4,260 to the local Best Western, $4,782 to the Red Roof Inn, and $4,700 to the Jameson Inn. Patti Ferris, the general manager of the Jameson Inn, which is just a five-minute drive from FLETC, likes to have two classes of 24 students each in her 62-room hotel at any given time. Officers staying at the Jameson wake up to homemade biscuits in the morning, and return to freshly baked cookies at night. "Everybody who stays here seems to like it," says Ferris.

In the mid-1990s, Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., cited Glynco's lack of dorm space as a reason to move Border Patrol training to his state. FLETC is leasing two new 300-room dorms at the edge of its campus, and a third will be built to accommodate the Border Patrol, according to Patrick.

Politics may play less of a role if FLETC absorbs more training facilities. Homeland Security officials have signaled that the Border Patrol's Charleston facility and a firing range in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., could become FLETC centers.

FLETC has won kudos from training officials at ICE and CBP, its two biggest partners, both of which just launched new training courses. In the spring, ICE officials told FLETC they needed facilities for a new 11-week basic training course for special agents, set to begin a month later. FLETC was able to rearrange the training schedule to make it happen. "That was pretty extraordinary," says Palmatier.

Palmatier just wishes FLETC had more cash. The higher pace of training has increased wear and tear on facilities. Some ICE trainees have even become ill because of mold in their dorm rooms, he says. "These buildings are sick," he says. "FLETC's hands are tied to some extent because they don't get the dollars they need."