By Skip Tucker
Director of Development and Special Publications
Should a top-10 list be made of people in this state who protect people, at or near the top would be Officer Roderick Chambers, Division Manager of Training for the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles.
He’s an excellent trainer. At 6’4”, 290, he’s something of a train himself. His best speed for the 40-yard dash was 4.6. Officer Chambers is smart, intelligent, big, smart, quick, tough, big and smart.
He was born to it – military – but his natural skills were honed by some of the best, including Eufaula Coach Rush Propst, Auburn University coaches Terry Bowden and Jimbo Fisher and Green Bay Packers Coach Ray Rhodes. He was a star linebacker/defensive tackle.
On any given day, Chambers and his bureau staff in Montgomery are teaching deep skill sets of varying types to nearly 400 men and women across Alabama. All want to see that the badge is earned. There’s a lot to it.
The profession of probation and parole officer requires a college degree. Upon application to the bureau, it takes nearly six months for a college grad to win the right to wear the bureau badge, even for someone on the fast track.
Not so fast there.
“There is no fast track,” Chambers said. “Not everyone is cut out to be a cop. This is where a lot of people make the decision, to be or not to be.”
There’s a lot of training. Under Chambers, rookies learn to walk the walk and talk the talk. They develop strength, physical and mental, to take on one of the toughest tasks to be found.
Training is unending, but the foundation is set when the bureau reviews its applicants and chooses. Once chosen, work begins. For six weeks, rookies are immersed in the Chambers’ care.
They learn their jobs and respect for the job. They learn how to deal with criminals who have been institutionalized and who must learn the social functions of how to walk and talk and breath free air without it becoming too heady.
Chambers teaches rookies and vets how to protect themselves those under their care and, most importantly, the public. Their skills grow deep and wide. Weapons training includes the correct use of chemical spray, and they learn hand-to-hand combat.
They learn how to interview criminals who are about to become eligible for another chance at freedom to try to determine whether the time is right for their release into the social fabric. They learn case planning and how to motivate.
It takes an able mind to absorb the teachings. Attitude, one of the most important of all things, is instilled.
People learn to protect the public from criminals free on probation or parole. They learn how to make split-second decisions, but first they learn how to carry. They carry responsibility, weapon, knowledge. They learn to use them in an appropriate manner. They learn the ultimate thing.
“It’s teamwork,” Chambers said. “First and foremost is teamwork. Your fellow officers have to know they can trust you to do your job, and that allows them to do theirs.
“You have to have the skills and knowhow. Those are your tools. If you don’t know how and when and where to apply the tools, they’re useless.”
Everyone on the team has the backs of everyone else on the team, and all have to know it to a certainty.
According to Chambers, he was born into a situation “surrounded by structure” at Ft. Benning as the son of an Army MP and a schoolteacher. They moved to Germany, where he was educated through the sixth grade. His dad retired at Fort McClellan at Anniston and moved the family to Eufaula.
Chambers became a four-star linebacker with the Tigers. He waffled between joining the US Marines and playing football at the next level. In 1997, he received scholarship offers from Alabama, Georgia, FSU and Auburn. He was recruited by Jimbo Fisher and played for Terry Bowden.
“Auburn is family,” Chambers said. “The other schools were business, but at Auburn I felt at home and at ease.”
“My most memorable year was my freshman year. I began to learn and adjust. I had been the BMOC at Eufaula. At Auburn, there were 80 other elite athletes on the field. It took a little while to adjust to the system and the sense of it all.”
Chambers won a starting position on special teams, going down under kickoffs and punts. It’s a punishing position.
“My first game was an away game at Virginia. We kicked off. I hit another player on kickoff return so hard it bent my facemask. I got up and played the whole game, but my brain was so scrambled from the hit that I never remembered a single play.” His third game was LSU at night in Baton Rouge – Death Valley – as big underdogs.
“When our bus turned into the stadium parking lot, we saw a long line of fans linked arm and arm, just watching us. We beat (them) in overtime.”
“We had 10,000 tickets but our fans were spread all over the stadium. That was my first taste of what teamwork can do. There were 80,000 fans screaming for our blood. We had to rely on each other. We had to let each other know we had each other’s backs. We all had to do our jobs.
“That’s when I began to know what it’s all about. You need two things to succeed as a team. You have to do your job, and everybody else has to be able to depend on you to do it. That year, we also beat Georgia and Alabama. Underdogs each time.”
Chambers tried out for the Green Bay Packers in 2001 as an invited walk-on. He made the scout team, but at practice in 2001, got his leg broken. It ended his professional football career.
“I decided to put my degree in sociology and criminal justice to work,” he said. He joined the bureau in 2003, starting his career at the Phenix City office. He became a Senior Officer in 2006 at the Wedowee office.
In 2011, Chambers earned his promotion to District C Manager in the Montgomery Field Office. He was transferred to the Training Division in 2015 to do what he does best. His training prepared him to train.
“That’s what I bring to this table,” Chambers said. “First, our officers have to learn what to do and to be depended on to do it. You’ve got to know your job and know the officer next to you knows his or hers. There’s a lot of turnover. It’s step in and step up. I train them to do it.”
“It’s important to know that not everyone is made to be a police officer. In lots of ways, it’s a calling. Have pride in the badge or don’t ask for one. I love training, I love instructing, I love helping people, I love the Bureau. And it’s only going to get better. Give me the rookie and I give you back the pro.”
Chambers has your backs. He sure knows how. He was an all-star linebacker, you know.