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The City Journals

FBI National Academy graduate Bill Merritt returns to WVCPD with fresh focus

Mar 29, 2019 11:15AM ● By Travis Barton

Deputy Chief Bill Merritt holds a yellow brick as a graduate from the FBI National Academy. Merritt completed the final fitness test of the academy, the Yellow Brick Road, a 6.1- mile course through hilly, wooded areas built by the marines. (Travis Barton/City Journals)

By Travis Barton | [email protected]

Bill Merritt recently returned to the West Valley City Police Department after training at the FBI National Academy reinvigorated in body and mind and able to run 6.1 mud-soaked miles.  

Merritt, acting deputy chief with WVCPD, graduated from the Academy—a professional course of study for U.S. and international law enforcement managers nominated because of demonstrated leadership qualities. Graduates often go on to serve in high ranking leadership positions. 

“It’s just an incredible overall experience,” Merritt told the West Valley Journal. 

Merritt, 43, finished the 11-week course in December, returning as only one of two current members of the WVCPD to have graduated the course. Police Chief Colleen Jacobs is the other. 

Less than one percent of all law enforcement gets to attend. Each class generally consists of about 250 people with four classes per year. Merritt was a part of the 274th class to graduate the academy. 

Those who attend typically wait 5-7 years after submitting their application prior to being accepted. Merritt applied in 2011 waiting seven years. At the academy he met someone who waited 13 years, while another he encountered waited six months. 

The Utah Regional FBI office only sends five every year, rotating among the different agencies with prospective attendees. 

“It's a very exclusive membership coming from this area,” said Jacobs, a 2012 graduate. 

The 11-week course in Virginia works like a semester of college where law enforcement officials sign up for classes—living in dorms with shared bathrooms or doing presentations, scenarios, quizzes, midterms or finals. 

Merritt took courses on media relations, navigating internal crises, drugs and a counter terrorism class among others. All attendees did physical training, typically focusing on body weight rather than weights. The academy also featured guest speakers who spoke on PTSD, how to work with people on the autism spectrum, the Freddie Gray incident in Baltimore and the West Nickel Mines School shooting in Pennsylvania. 

He also toured the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the National Law Enforcement Memorial and the Capitol. 

The academy is both national and international. Twenty-three countries were represented, Merritt said, including Vietnam, Japan, Romania, Brazil, Argentina, Australia to name a few. 

He said it was fascinating to see the differences in law enforcement. In Romania, policies with firearms are different. Officers don’t carry a bullet in the chamber and warning shots are allowed. 

Also, not a single country had a recruiting problem, Merritt said. If 50 spots are open, 3,000 apply. Agencies in other countries are turning people away. 

“(Whereas) that is a nationwide problem right now, for the most part,” he said. “In these other countries, law enforcement is looked at as very stable and can actually be a lucrative job.” 

For Merritt, the academy had some special moments. At the National Law Enforcement Memorial, they held a flag ceremony with bagpipes where officers could approach a microphone and say the name of an officer fallen in the line of duty. 

“I was able to do that for Officer Cody Brotherson, West Valley City Police Department, end of watch, Nov. 6, 2016,” Merritt recalled. 

Another moment was completing the final fitness challenge called the Yellow Brick Road—a 6.1-mile course through a hilly, wooded trail built by the marines. Two miles are an obstacle course with climbing walls, creeks, simulated windows and crawling under barbed wire in muddy water. 

As for how it helps West Valley City, Merritt said he’s matured as a leader, reinvigorated his passion for law enforcement and exposed his mind to different ideas. “It broadens your horizons and helps you be able to see better.”  

Jacobs said the experience was instrumental preparation for her current position as chief. 

“It was a truly amazing and one of a kind experiences,” Jacobs said. “It couldn’t be duplicated anywhere else, 250 execs from around the world to take classes and collaborate together. It's an amazing experience.”

Its greatest benefit may be the networking that takes place, giving exposure to 249 other agencies and leaders. To have any issue or strategy, Jacobs said, and bounce it off a similarly sized agency in another area of the country is “truly eye opening and valuable. You can read articles but until you have a conversation with someone, you don’t realize how different it can be.” 

Jacobs utilized her vast network of fellow academy graduates when WVC created its homeless task force, asking advice from a law enforcement leader in Santa Monica, California. 

Most valuable for Jacobs, was the local networking it provided. Every local graduate becomes a member of the Utah Chapter of National Academy Association, exposing them to other leaders within the state. “It's allowed me to get to know my peers before they were my peers,” said Jacobs, who was named WVC police chief in 2018. 

Though Jacobs and Merritt are currently the only two graduates in WVCPD, Deputy Chiefs Robert Hamilton and Scott Buchanan have both submitted applications. West Valley City has also seen at least a dozen others from its department go through the academy that have gone on to leadership positions, according to Jacobs. That includes University of Utah Police Chief Dale Brophy, North Salt Lake Police Chief Craig Black, former chief Thayle “Buzz” Nielsen, and former chief Terry Keefe. 

For Merritt—who wanted to be police officer since he was 4 when he watched his dad, an officer for the LAPD, show up to his sister’s school in uniform—graduating the academy was one of the highlights of his career. 

“This by far and away kind of takes the cake,” he said. “It's an opportunity not many people get so you got to treat it as an honor and a privilege because it is.”