Police chief returns with new knowledge

Donelle Pardee Whiting
Graduation day: Chief Jim Kuchenbecker stands next to the FBI Academy sign after graduating from the FBI National Academy Program Friday.

Although Washington Police Chief Jim Kuchenbecker said he is happy to be home, he is also thrilled to have been able to achieve a career goal.

“It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Kuchenbecker said about his recent completion of a 10-week course through the FBI.

Kuchenbecker graduated from the 234th session of the National Academy Program at Quantico.

The program at the FBI Academy offers training for selected officers having proven records as professionals within their agencies.

In addition to fitness training, courses include media relations; leadership, ethics and decision making; labor law issues for law enforcement administration; conflict resolution for law enforcement management; and legal issues for command level officers.

Applicants must be nominated before they are put through the selection process.

Kuchenbecker, since becoming an officer, wanted to participate in the program.

He said he first applied while still in Wheaton, but before he could be nominated, he withdrew his application because he knew he would be leaving the job there.

However, he still wanted to go through the advanced training.

“When I came to Washington, I discussed it with (Bob Morris), the mayor and council members,” Kuchenbecker said.

After receiving approval from the council, Kuchenbecker resubmitted his application.

He was nominated by former special agent in charge of the FBI division office in Springfield, Wayson Dunn.

Dunn has since been promoted, and is now the special agent in charge of the Newark, N.J., office.

Kuchenbecker was put through intense medical and background checks before his application went to the selection board.

“For every one officer accepted, there are 450 who want to be there,” Kuchenbecker said, adding there were officers from 49 states, the District of Columbia and 24 countries, three military organizations and two federal civilian organizations.

Six of the 250 officers were from Illinois, Kuchenbecker said.

“It is highly competitive,” he said, referring to the program as the West Point of law enforcement.

Kuchenbecker said the most difficult thing for him was not being with his family.

Support of his family, friends and the community, helped get Kuchenbecker through, he said.

“The first two weeks I was really homesick,” Kuchenbecker said, adding, “That’s not to say it was not a great experience, but I really missed my family. The community came through and helped my family. And members of the police department all did a marvelous job while I was gone.”

Aside from missing his family, he said the hardest part of the program was the Yellow Brick Road course.

The YBR course is a 3.1 trail with 26 obstacles, including climbing walls, ropes, cargo nets and other obstacles.

“The fitness part was tough, Kuchenbecker said. “I’m 44, not 24.”

Kuchenbecker said he enjoyed the opportunity to rewrite policies that would improve the department for class projects.

In addition to finalizing Washington’s emergency disaster plan, Kuchenbecker said he is taking the department in a new direction by swapping the current rules and regulations system for a principles-based code of conduct.

“It ties in with our policy of community policing,” he said, adding that he had help from his instructors, and the new system was reviewed by FBI legal personnel.

Although the program was enlightening, Kuchenbecker said, “It is very humbling. I thought I knew a lot about law enforcement (after 23 years), but I learned so many new things.”