In a crime-fighting age darkened by terrorism and cultural rage, Connie Patrick is a tough-minded optimist who oversees the nation’s largest law enforcement training program with her faith in God and humanity intact.
A veteran of almost three decades in law enforcement, she says Americans must face today’s criminal, terrorist and biological threats with prayer, preparation and courage. The worst thing people can do, she says, is live in fear.
“Fear and faith are opposites,” says Patrick, a United Methodist who says her faith has prepared her for her task as director of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, headquartered near Brunswick, Ga.
“Terrorists win if you create fear in people’s minds. But faith helps eliminate or alleviate fear. It’s important for citizens to hold onto their faith in God, faith in democracy, government and humanity—and to teach those values to their children. All of that contributes to combating terrorism.”
Increased incidents of terrorism—peaking with 9/11 in 2001 and including subsequent high-profile strikes in Russia, Spain, Indonesia, Iraq and most recently London—contribute to a sense of hopelessness and instability in the world. But Patrick offers up a message of hope, composure, purpose and preparedness when discussing today’s real-world challenges to national security and law enforcement.
“You have to stay calm,” she says of her sweeping responsibilities under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. “When you get worried or nervous or upset, your brain shuts down. That doesn’t help anything.”
Patrick knows about the power of fear. She saw it firsthand while working with the public as a uniformed deputy when she began her career in 1976 with the Sheriff’s Department in Brevard County, Fla., including a stint as a homicide detective. She has also experienced it as a special agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement from 1981 to 1996, dealing with criminal elements ranging from drug traffickers to organized crime.
“Fear is paralyzing,” she says. “It’s destructive. You can’t quit doing things because you’re afraid of crime or terrorism. You can’t quit sending your kids to school, or working, or traveling. Life must go on. If it doesn’t, then evil wins. The more prepared people are mentally, physically and spiritually, the more they can put fear into context and deal with these issues in a healthy emotional way.”
She believes citizen preparation and awareness are critical for fighting the elements of crime, terrorism and fear. “It’s important to always have a plan,” says Patrick, citing measures as simple as designating a family meeting spot outside of the home or neighborhood in the event of a disaster. “The more people know and the more contingency planning they do, the more they are in control. There are certainly things we can’t control, and those we shouldn’t worry about. But the issues we can control, I encourage people to make preparations.”
Those who know Patrick describe her as a strong leader with solid law enforcement credentials, great people skills and a vibrant Christian faith.
“Connie is a classic servant leader,” says the Rev. Tim Steffen, her pastor at Wesley United Methodist Church in Frederica, Ga. “I’ve been in her world and watched her relating to everybody from Vice President (Dick) Cheney to students at the training center. She treats them all with the same respect and appreciation.”
Merle Manzi worked beside Patrick as a special agent in Florida and calls her “a really good cop” who has “earned what she has.”
“Connie doesn’t try to witness or preach to people. She’s the embodiment of the Golden Rule working in an environment that has its rough edges. She just lives out her faith,” says Manzi.
Despite a career centered on fighting crime and preparing for worst-case scenarios, Patrick says faith in God helps her maintain a healthy balance and optimism.
“Being in law enforcement, you constantly size up situations and look for things that don’t’ seem right,” she says. “But early on, I made a conscious decision that I wouldn’t let the work make me negative or suspicious-minded. And within the law enforcement network, I also noticed that the ones who were optimistic and happy tended to have a Christian foundation.…
“I try to put God first, my family second, and my job third,” says Patrick, 49, who with her husband, John, has a blended family of four children and one grandchild. “When I get that out of sequence, I notice that my life just doesn’t work as well. Making decisions based on this trilogy seems to help me keep perspective.”