One Man's Passion Leads to Successful Police Hiring Rate
24 February 2021, By Terri Moon Cronk, DoD News

It might take a village to raise a child, as the saying goes, but sometimes a single person can make a difference in something as large as the Defense Department's law-enforcement field.

The colleagues of Air Force Lt. Col. Brian Copper Jr. say he did just that when a need arose for a direct-hire authority to get civilian DOD peace officers around the world hired in a timely manner, and to make sure the law-enforcement mission continued without staff shortages. There are about 9,200 people in DOD law enforcement, excluding military police.

The lieutenant colonel was one of many Pentagon peace officers. He made sure the Air Force got the direct-hire authority when the issue first arose in 2018, and that authority has progressed DOD-wide because of his efforts, his colleagues said.

Copper passed away in August 2020. In December, he was posthumously awarded the first Law Enforcement Officer Certification because of his commitment to the Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission, in addition to his work on the direct-hire authority. He was the Air Force commissioner of POST.

"Brian was a wonderful person and a great patriot; his enthusiasm was contagious. He is greatly missed." Shelley A. Verdejo, Director, Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission

Receiving his officer's commission in 2001 after military enlistment in 1989, Copper commanded squadrons within security forces at multiple locations throughout his career.

"He knew firsthand as a young airman and [non-commissioned officer] what it meant to be a law enforcement professional, and how important training was to those guys who are out there on the front lines. He had a unique perspective, having done it as an airman and then as a commander in a unit," Vince Heitmaan, senior law enforcement advisor to the office of the undersecretary of intelligence and security, said.

"Lt. Col Copper was very involved with making sure that all the partners within the department including [the military services] were all aware that we were pursuing this initiative, and that if we did it as a collective group, we'd have much more success," Jorge Vargasmorales, an action officer with the POST training and force development division, explained.

Copper, he noted, was quite instrumental in providing the points-of-contact that others collaborated with and they were able to obtain the DOD-wide hiring authority. The department-wide authority was issued in September 2020.

"Our goal is to make this a permanent direct-hire authority that will be included in the national defense," Vargasmorales explained, adding there are also 26 members of the law enforcement caucus in Congress. "When they were made aware [of the direct-hire authority], they were excited and had significant interest to make sure that these types of efforts become [reality]," he said of the caucus.

Among the military services, hiring and retention issues fell to the wayside, Vargasmorales added. It now takes about 86 days to hire a peace officer, and the fastest hire took only 50 days.

Dedicated to the direct-hire authority for use throughout the DOD, Copper was intimately involved in the effort and attended meeting after meeting to make sure the authority came to fruition, his colleagues said.

"He was a unique individual," Vargasmorales said. "He was passionate about everything. Whenever he put his effort behind something, it was always all or nothing with him. On the [direct-hire authority], he was instrumental in educating senior leaders, too."

Copper, he noted, could translate what is traditionally a very complex process in simple, understandable, bite sizes for leaders, he said.

"He was always the person who was an inclusion guy," Vargasmorales said. "He was really big on making sure that we all knew what each other was doing. He was always very open to expanding the conversation."

Cooper could light up a room when he entered. "We felt Brian exuded all of the things we would want law enforcement officers in the Department of Defense to be," Shelley A. Verdejo, POST director and chief of the law enforcement division in USD (I&S), said. "Brian was a wonderful person and a great patriot; his enthusiasm was contagious. He is greatly missed."

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