After applying and being selected for a 13-week program at the University of Louisville this year, Richmond Assistant Police Chief Rodney Richardson brought a lot of knowledge and new skills back to the Richmond Police Department.
The program included five classes, taught by UofL professors, and Richardson was a student alongside 45 other officers from across the United States. He rented a small apartment close to the campus and would often walk to his classes that were part of the Administrative Officers Course, offered by the Southern Police Institute at the university.
"They wanted to teach administrators at police departments how to properly research topics, problems, things that they needed, how to put that together and how to properly present it," he said.
"It seems like I spent all my time in the library, there and the writing center. We had a lot of legal stuff we covered -- state, supreme court stuff, as far as administrators and what they might face. We talked about current issues that law enforcement encounters."
Richardson said the program was very oriented to educating officers when it comes to administrative work, as well as a range of other topics.
"You name it, we covered it," he said.
Some of those topics were recruiting, retention, liability, accountability to citizens and leadership, which he described was a huge topic.
And to some extent, Richardson said, the students were in charge of what topics were covered. For example, in one class that covered legal issues related to police, officers came up with topics they were facing in their fields, and officers from different departments shared their own approaches. They talked about what was working for them, what wasn't, what decisions were made and which of those were good decisions.
Richardson focused his time on that class researching, writing about and discussing body cameras that officers wear, as well as the topic of social media when it comes to officers.
He said he researched cases where officers have posted something on their social media, such as a meme, and how those personal posts got them in legal trouble after the fact. Richardson spent time looking at the advantages and disadvantages of officers using social media.
"They just may be joking, but it isn't funny, not when you're in that job," he said. "You're in the public view all the time. The public expects officers to be perfect all the time. … There was a lot of just silly mistakes that officers shouldn't have done."
But social media can often also be used in police work as detectives are investigating cases, for example.
"(My research) focused on how to stay out of trouble on social media, which it sounds like common sense, but they don't think about some of the stuff they put on there," he said. "It's got its good points, and it's got its bad. Just be cautious."
He also talked about how sometimes officers can get in trouble because of things that friends tag them in on social media, for example.
"It was heavy research and heavy writing, which is good," he said.
Overall, Richardson said, the most interesting thing he learned during the 13-week program, which included a dead week that he spent writing papers during, was how to communicate effectively.
"I would think the most interesting that I learned, to be quite honest, it would probably be how to properly conduct research and how to turn that research into something that's understandable and how to write it properly," he said.
He said that researching and presenting topics is an important part of the job for police administrators, as their budgets come from government councils.
"If you don't know how to properly research and solve problems, … it could effect the public and the community," he said.
Richardson said that the whole program was great, though, and he enjoyed the entire experience.
"It just prepares you for the future. It prepares you for a bigger role," he said. "It will even make you better at the current role you're at. My feeling about that is if you're given a job, you do that job to the best of your ability."
He also said education is important for officers because it prepares them for the next level.
"When it comes up, you know, you can step into that, and you won't be in shock," Richardson said. "You'll be prepared for it."
When asked if Richardson hopes to become chief of the RPD, he said, "I think that's my ultimate goal, is to become chief. I started here almost 22 years ago."
Richardson said he's talked about it with Chief James Ebert, as well.
"He's doing everything in his power to prepare me for that when the time comes," he said. "That's no guarantee, of course. But if it becomes available, and that's what the city wants me to do, then yeah, I think I would accept that challenge. … I care a lot about this town."
Reach Sara Kuhl at 624-6626; follow her on Twitter @saraekuhl.