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Leadership development for the overlooked: Transforming small law enforcement agencies

A new initiative from the FBI NCCA introduces accessible, high-quality leadership training to agencies with less than 50 officers, addressing a critical gap in law enforcement education

FBI National Command Course Association.png

At Radford University for a FBI National Command Course Association session on Excellence in Small Agency Policing. Executive Director, Jim Moore, (left) helps the class to develop and understand their leadership philosophy. Professor Jeff Dodson (right) facilitate conversation on new promotions and career goals. Lots of great discussion with students from all across the country!

FBI National Command Course Association

“If you are unable to understand the cause of a problem, it is impossible to solve it.” — Naoto Kan

The problem: Small law enforcement agency leaders can’t access elite training.

The cause: These agencies don’t have the staffing to cover shifts left bare by the absence of a working boss. Administrative-only positions are a luxury in departments where every officer is also an investigator, a crime scene tech and maybe animal control and a brand inspector, too. Plus, training costs too much and is too far away.

The solution: Bring world-class training to small law enforcement agencies, keeping travel and expenses manageable.

Retired FBI supervisory special agent Jim Moore, understands this problem because he grew up in the hills and hollers of West Virginia, began his law enforcement career as a game warden, and then became a federal investigator assigned to a vast stretch of rural Colorado. Cops from small departments are as familiar to him as family. As the program director for the FBI’s National Executive Institute during the last five years of his federal career, he became intimately acquainted with the FBI’s world-class leadership courses, all tailored to develop leaders in departments from 50 members to huge urban agencies.

However, more than 85% of the nation’s law enforcement agencies employ fewer than 50 officers, and about half employ only 10, or less. That’s an enormous percentage of the country’s LEOs. The first step toward reaching these left-behind LEO leaders was a program Moore helped create called the National Command Course (NCC), which brought cohorts of 50 or so participants to Quantico for an abbreviated leadership course.

Moore’s associate Cory McGookin (also a retired FBI agent and former chief of the National Academy program) said, “Where the FBI’s National Executive Institute (NEI) brings in leaders from agencies of more than 500 sworn and the Law Enforcement Executive Development Seminar (LEEDS) brings in leaders from agencies of 50-499 sworn, Jim recognized that there was a huge gap for the FBI to have the same level of support for leaders of agencies below 50. The NCC has been running for a few years and two times per year the FBI brings in a cohort of 50 … to Quantico to have the same top-notch experience and education… as the others.”

NCC was well received, but the travel was still too high a hurdle for most small departments. Moore is leading the way over that hurdle with a new 501(c)3 nonprofit called the FBI National Command Course Association (NCCA) and is now its executive director.

“Jim saw the opportunity to have a larger impact across the nation and helped set up the FBI National Command Course Association,” McGookin explained. “Much like the FBI LEEDA association, the NCCA is focusing on bringing training to officers around the country. What makes this unique, however, is that the NCCA will focus on those small agencies. Jim will tap into the incredible resources we were able to get at the FBI National Academy and bring them to small towns for two- or three-day training sessions.”

Moore said they first tried offering the training online, without the effectiveness they hoped for. Now they are bringing the training to the communities that need it instead, so law enforcement leaders in nearby regions can attend in person, at a lower cost. To do that, NCCA needs departments to host the program, providing a venue and advertising to attract attendees from surrounding areas.

The first NCCA seminar took place in Virginia in December 2023, a “test class” of sorts with attendees from across the country. It was a resounding success, with enthusiastic feedback from the participants. The next session is scheduled for this April in Pennsylvania, and Moore hopes to add another in the Rocky Mountain West in the fall. The intent is to bring the training and networking opportunities to as many small agency leaders as possible, keeping travel and expenses minimal with the shorter program and varied geographic locations. The eventual goal is for the NCCA to present four seminars each year.

“We’re targeting aspiring leaders, mid-level managers and first-line supervisors, and eventually want to add 911 operators,” Moore said. “We’re teaching leadership, not how to be a cop. This is all adult education, an exchange of ideas through facilitated discussions within groups.”

A major theme emphasizes basic wellness in all its forms. Other topics include Crisis Leadership, Creating a Culture of Accountability, Leading Well and Understanding Your “Why,” among others. Participants will learn how to manage changed responsibilities and expectations after promotion, and work to clarify and articulate their own leadership philosophy. Where a major downside of rural policing can be isolation, the networking opportunities provided by NCCA training sessions are expected to be highly valuable.

Moore emphasized that leadership development among small departments, long neglected, is essential. The number of officers working in small departments across the country is too high to justify leaving them behind. “The survival of the profession depends on the quality of law enforcement leadership,” he said, “on leadership improvement.”

To find out more about upcoming FBI NCCA sessions, apply to attend, or propose your department as a venue, contact Jim Moore at

Kathleen Dias writes features and news analysis on topics of concern to law enforcement professionals serving in rural and remote locations. She uses her background in writing, teaching and marketing to advocate for professional levels of training and equipment for rural officers, open channels of communication for isolated departments, and dispel myths about rural policing. She’s had a front-row seat observing rural agencies – local, state and federal – from the Sierra foothills to California’s notorious Emerald Triangle, for more than 30 years.