Summit County’s SWAT leader to be first transgender woman sent to prestigious FBI National Academy
In January, the Summit County Sheriff’s Office operations commander and SWAT team coordinator, Lesley Mumford, was called into Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons’ office for a sit-down. Undersheriff Joel Cochran was there, too, and it seemed like this was no ordinary meeting.
“I was quickly trying to recall anything that I might have done to get me in trouble,” Mumford said. “I was at a loss, but it seemed like a very serious conversation was about to take place.”
The pall was quickly lifted when FitzSimons told Mumford she had been accepted into the FBI National Academy, an elite, 10-week training course for law enforcement in Quantico, Virginia.
Mumford is one of roughly 200 law enforcement agents from across the country selected for the academy, a rigorous blend of classroom work and physical training at the storied FBI campus and the bank of the Potomac. Candidates are chosen every year through an extremely selective nomination and invitation process.
Mumford’s selection isn’t just an honor for her, though. It’s also a groundbreaking moment for the FBI and law enforcement generally, as she will be the first transgender woman to ever attend the academy in its 83-year history.
“I think it’s a pretty amazing thing, a historical thing,” Mumford said. “It makes me feel that society is changing, it makes me feel that as individuals we do have the ability to change and influence the world around us.”
Mumford transitioned last year, a process the sheriff’s office sought to make as seamless as possible. FitzSimons, who nominated Mumford, said her selection to the academy is another groundbreaking moment for the transgender community.
“We were so proud to have her transition in the workplace, but this is the next, huge, huge, smash-the-ceiling moment,” he said. “We’re so proud of Lesley.”
First-day jitters are normal for anyone attending the academy, one of the few places to combine grueling obstacle courses with graduate-level coursework. But Mumford will face the added pressure that can come with defying convention when she attends in July.
“I haven’t faced many challenges living in Summit County and Colorado, and so much of my story has been well-received,” she said. “I hope that continues in this instance, and so far I’ve not been given any indication that it wouldn’t. But I don’t know who the other 200-plus classmates will be and what their backgrounds and values are.”
Mumford sees the academy as a chance to be a positive influence on the hundreds of other police agencies across the country and world that are sending students. By excelling in her classes and working with others on group projects, Mumford could change their prejudices and assumptions for the better.
“I’ll have the opportunity to shape whatever sentiment somebody is left with,” she said. “Hopefully, if there are any negative sentiments, I can challenge those simply by existing and performing and proving my capability and competence.”
Mumford is still putting together her schedule, which feels a lot like being back in college, she said. Since she already holds a bachelor’s degree, all of her courses at the academy must be at the master’s level.
The academy was established in 1935 to help standardize and professionalize policing agencies across the country. Today, its curriculum includes coursework in areas from intelligence theory to management science to forensics.
Given Mumford’s position as operations commander, she was the perfect candidate to learn the latest thinking on police management.
“She is the front-line manager of all of our outside operations and everything that happens in the field, so what better person to go get the most state-of-the-art thinking from the FBI on what’s going on nationally and how law enforcement is changing its policing models?” Cochran said.
Physical fitness is a major part of the academy as well. The final rite of passage in that category is the infamous “Yellow Brick Road,” a 6.1-mile obstacle course designed by U.S. Marines in the 1980s. Students who make it through the gauntlet of wall climbs, window jumps and other obstacles are awarded with a commemorative yellow brick, a trophy that makes a clear statement sitting on a desk.
But for Mumford, going to the academy is about more than the personal accolades and even the training and knowledge she will share with the rest of the sheriff’s office upon returning.
“Attending and graduating and being successful is bigger than just me,” she said. “It gives me the ability to influence organizations far beyond my own. So many people like me don’t have the opportunity to be seen, but this allows me to have a voice in this moment culturally.”
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