Have you ever wanted to get a glimpse of what the Federal Bureau of Investigation is like from the inside? You’re in luck. Almost half of the 56 field Offices of the FBI host a Citizens’ Academy as a part of their community outreach where you can do exactly that.
The Citizens’ Academy grew out of a recognized need to strengthen the community’s relationship with the Phoenix field Office in 1993. Then Special Agent in Charge, Jim Ahearn, modeled the academy after one run by the local police force. Finding success, more Academies developed in field offices around the United States, including the Los Angeles Citizens’ Academy which began in 2000.
The Los Angeles FBI Citizens’ Academy runs for eight weeks. Participants are treated to dinner before several special agents come in to give the presentation for the evening in their specialties. The topics vary by week and cover everything from the history and structure of the FBI to the different areas they investigate, to the ethics of handling a weapon and firearm training.
During the class, the agents broke down the myth that FBI is nothing, but a closed mouthed agency at the expense of public safety. In fact, they demonstrated how the FBI is more transparent than it’s ever been in history. When working with outside law enforcement agencies they still have to battle some distrust from some of the officers that the FBI is not sharing everything they know.
In reality, the FBI shares as much intelligence as possible with the limits being placed on how the information was obtained instead of the information itself. Many of these barriers are crumbling under the task force model where agents and officers work side by side on a regular basis.
As a 2009 graduate of the Los Angeles Citizens’ Academy, the thing that struck me the most about interacting with the agents is that they are all very passionate about their jobs. They love what they do and it shows. Not only does this love come across in the passion with which they present their material, but it’s evident in how knowledgeable they are about what they do. Not only can the agents tell you the what, but they can break down the psychology of the why which makes them more effective in their investigations.
Given the agents’ extreme enthusiasm for their jobs, one might be tempted to take the assertion that the Los Angeles field office is one of the top offices in the nation with a grain of salt. Until one looks at the facts. For instance, there are only fifty full time bomb squads nationwide. Twelve of which are run out of the Los Angeles field office. There are three bomb robots in the United States. One calls the Los Angeles field office home.
When there are disasters around the globe, natural or otherwise, the Los Angeles field office is generally one of the first deployed due to the varied specialties in which their agents excel. The thing that sets the Los Angeles field office apart from their counterparts is the focus that’s placed on training. The personnel is constantly training and broadening their knowledge base so they become experts at what they do.
To conclude the program, class members are treated to a Range and Graduation Day. Agents from the different specialties bring out their “toys” for demonstration. These toys range from the mobile command center to the boat used to deploy their SCUBA teams. And yes, the boat, along with the truck that tows it on land do travel with them wherever they go around the world.
Next, the SWAT team demonstrates a compliant traffic stop with live rounds in the sniper rifles before the class is allowed to shoot standard issue handguns and rifles on the range under the watchful eyes of the instructors. Finally, lunch is served followed by a graduation ceremony where the diplomas are distributed.
After graduation, the students may join the Citizens’ Academy Alumni Association which keeps them in touch with their new FBI contacts and presents opportunities to continue serving the community as a liaison throughout the year.
The Citizens’ Academy is open to anyone who can meet all of the following requirements:
a business, civic, religious, or community leader
at least 21 years of age with no prior felony convictions
live and work within the jurisdiction of the field office
pass a background investigation
In some cases, you may apply for the Academy online. You may also call your local field office’s community relations department for more information.
Links to Chapters of the FBI Citizens’ Academy Alumni:
El Paso: www.fbielpasocaaa.org
Kansas City: www.fbikcca.org
Los Angeles: www.fbicaa.org
New Orleans: www.fbicaanola.com
New York: www.nyfbicaa.org