Chief Thomas Mills learned innovative ways to promote officer wellness and community relations at the academy
By KRYSTAL NURSE
A busy 11 weeks paid off for Harrison Township Police Chief Thomas Mills after his graduation from the FBI National Academy Program.
After his time in Quantico, Va., where the training took place, Mills said he walked away with 17 graduate-level credit hours and some undergraduate courses in Contemporary Issues in Law Enforcement, Fitness in Law Enforcement, Constitutional Law and Policing, Managing the Law Enforcement Image, Officer Wellness, and Critical Analysis of Present-Day Policing.
Mills is also the first officer from the Harrison Township Police Department to go into the program.
“Clearly I wouldn’t be able to do it without the support from the township and my family,” said Mills. He added being away from his wife and family was the most difficult part in his training.
He said less than 1 percent of all officers worldwide are selected to attend the program, and he has hopes of implementing the training and education he received into the police department to not only promote the health and safety of his officers, but also the community.
“If you don’t stay on top of current situations and current events, and take the steps necessary to improve yourself as a leader, you won’t improve the way the department as a whole functions,” said Mills. “You’ll do a disservice to your community.”
In some of the courses, he explained officers discussed the issues that affected their communities and relayed to one another what methods did and didn’t work out well for them or that need to be improved.
“It was a lot of people sharing their experiences and trying to make things easier and better for [departments] who may not be doing things, or who want to implement a program from another agency,” added Mills.
One course he especially focused on was Officer Wellness and learning about ways to reduce stress. Officers who died by suicide outnumbered line-of-duty deaths in 2018 –159 to 144 — according to Blue H.E.L.P., a Massachusetts-based nonprofit dedicated to “reducing mental health stigmas” in police officers across the country.
In that course, Mills said others also gave presentations on alternative methods to dealing with stress, such as meditation, religion and spirituality.
“It’s just doing a better job of looking out for the officers that work here, because, if you take care of them, they will take better care of the community,” he said.
The course also dealt with injury prevention.
“There’s a lot of officers, including full-time tactical teams, that are moving towards training with yoga,” said Mills. “We have found that it’s reducing injuries and it increases your flexibility, which certainly makes sense, but unless you’re aware of it, you’re not thinking outside the box.”
With the National Academy Alumni Association having more than 51,00 graduates, Mills said “the network of members allows the FBI, when or if they need something, to reach out through the alumni association to contact local law enforcement in Gloucester County.”
“It’s such a prestigious academy that I was on the waiting list for three years,” said Mills. “Once the classes start, you understand why it’s so exclusive. You understand the training you get is the best, and you have the opportunity to deal with like-minded people who have the same goal. That’s why the screening and application processes are so strong.”
Mills said if he was given the opportunity, he’d enroll in the program again, considering the education he obtained and the connections he has made with officers from all over the world including Hawaii, Alaska and Florida.