Alexandria Police Department Captain Courtney Ballantine just spent 10 weeks at the FBI National Academy, and spoke with ALXnow about his experience.
Over the summer, Ballantine lived in a dorm with a roommate at Marine Corps Base Quantico, worked out four times a week and studied the psychology of leadership, managing change, leading at-risk employees and strategies for community partnerships. There were about 200 other law enforcement officers who participated in the academy’s 287th session.
Ballantine, now the commander of APD’s Community Engagement Division and Special Operations Division, joined the department in 2000, straight after earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Radford University. He was promoted to sergeant in 2007, lieutenant in 2014, was made acting-captain in 2021 and officially became a captain in 2022.
Ballantine’s responsibilities include managing the department’s parking enforcement, traffic safety, special events, K9 units, crossing guards, school resource officers, and APD’s crisis intervention team program. He’s also the commander of the department’s peer support and resiliency group, which is designed to help officers cope with the wear and tear of the job.
He also now joins a list of APD graduates from the FBI National Academy, which includes Chief Don Hayes, Captain Monica Lisle, Captain Jerry Newcomb, Lieutenant Steve Carr, Lieutenant Mike May and Lieutenant Tara May.
ALXnow: Welcome back. How’d you get involved in this?
Ballantine: Thanks. I put in for this program a couple of years ago, and I’ve been on a waiting list. Eventually my name got pulled. You know, it’s always easy to put your name on a piece of paper saying you’re interested, but when your name is called you actually have to go and do it. It’s a reality check.
ALXnow: What was your life like at the academy?
Ballantine: It was 10 weeks of living in a dorm. I had a roommate from Bristol, Connecticut, and we shared a bathroom with two other people, and we did graduate-level coursework through the University of Virginia. In one particular training session, for instance, there were 40 other law enforcement executives across the world who brought their perspectives and experience to the conversation. So, if I didn’t learn something new in that course, I confirmed that we were already doing something right.
ALXnow: When I think of the FBI Academy, that opening scene in The Silence Of The Lambs with Jodie Foster running through the obstacle course comes to mind.
Ballantine: We watched that movie one night at the academy, and I actually completed that obstacle course at the end of the 10 weeks. It’s called the Yellow Brick Road, and it’s a 6.3-mile course, and the nine weeks of workouts leading up to that is the only reason I was able to successfully finish it.
ALXnow: What did you learn and how are you going to apply it in Alexandria?
Ballantine: What you have to understand is that the National Academy is like a utopia. You’re in the woods, where deer are frolicking in the pasture with bunny rabbits. You’re in a secured area on a secured military base. You have three meals a day, you exercise, you’re with people that want to learn and do better, and you’re learning about the world and how other people do what we do. And when I walked out, you’re hit with reality, like leaving college and facing the real world…
One of the biggest things I want to try to really expound on is wellness for ourselves. I’m currently the commander of our peer support and resiliency group, which we started in 2017. At the academy, I took the class for leading at-risk employees, which is about dealing with the wear and tear of the job, seeing all that accumulative trauma. The work can overwhelm the best of us and manifest in heart disease, depression, alcoholism, or even suicide. There’s a lot more that we can do and we have to make sure we take care of ourselves.
ALXnow: What was an inspiring moment for you at the academy?
Ballantine: I had to do a presentation in my class for leading at-risk employees. I asked a friend of mine working in the department to come down to present with me, and we talked about our ability to work together, our relationship and how we’ve helped each other through tough times, dark days and bright days. We’ve always been part of each other’s world to support each other, and when we were finished presenting, everyone in the room was clapping because they recognized how awesome that is, that we’ve both kept each other alive.
ALXnow: During your law enforcement career you could have left Alexandria. Why have you stayed?
Ballantine: I love my job. I absolutely love coming to work, being in this community working with the officers. After being here for 23 years, which is longer than anywhere else I’ve ever lived, this is home.
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