CLEVELAND - I raised the gun. A large man with a knife approached me from the other end of the hallway, yelling.
I failed to exercise deadly force, and I was the victim in the firearms training simulation.
At the FBI Citizens’ Academy, I got a small taste of some of the training that the special agents must perfect.
A group of us were in the basement of the Cleveland FBI with the firearms training team. We were handed an inert gun, faced a large screen, and had to react to the scenario that played out.
The instructor described the bureau’s deadly force policy. Agents cannot use deadly force to prevent the escape of a fleeing suspect; in other words, no shooting in the back. And if you’ve ever seen a movie where an agent shoots out the tires of a suspect’s speeding vehicle, that’s the only place you’ll see it.
Before opening fire, agents must issue a verbal warning, and there is no such thing as a warning shot.
Agents are also taught the importance of action over reaction: how to act before it’s too late and an innocent person’s life is lost.
Some of this is comparable to what the average police officer is taught, but there are differences. Due to budget issues, most police departments have their officers qualify twice a year with a firearm. In contrast, FBI agents get four times a year to qualify.
Furthermore, when the FBI makes an arrest, it is planned. They know who they are arresting, when and where, and that allows them the privilege of having lots of fellow agents on hand and often limits the need for deadly force. Most police officers do not know what scenario they are walking into and must make arrests on the spot, where anything can happen.
The FBI instructor also taught us to hit center mass; that’s the bulk of the body including the stomach and chest.
In fact, a couple women in the class with a few years on me, including a marketing executive and a social worker – who had never held a gun before – did not hesitate to blow away their suspects. In the simulation, that is.
Should the need for heavy artillery arise, the FBI is ready. I was given the privilege of walking into the Cleveland division’s gun vault.
It is as it sounds. A large steel door opens to reveal a vault packed with guns. Some are antiques; we saw the Thompson submachine guns that the original agents first used. You’d probably recognize them as the Tommy guns from “Dick Tracy.”
An FBI SWAT member explained that the bureau has to keep up with the threat on the streets. At some point, criminals started wearing Kevlar bulletproof vests. Where do they get them? The Internet, of course. They’re pretty affordable, actually.
The SWAT member explained said it’s pretty disheartening not to be able to eliminate a threat, when they’ve had to shoot an armed suspect who won’t go down.
For that reason, the FBI has had to adopt supersonic weapons. That means certain weapons fire at such a high speed that a Kevlar vest will not stop the bullet.
It’s OK to admit: firearms training and evidence gathering are pretty cool. In fact, I also got to see what the FBI’s Evidence Response Team does.
The agents who work on the ERT have day jobs in the FBI. Then their pager goes off and they have to suit up and head off to a crime scene to gather evidence.
And gathering evidence is their job. They simply gather it and then send it off to labs. They have two weeks of training to learn how to do that without compromising the integrity of the evidence or breaking the chain of command.
They have lots of toys and gadgets to collect evidence. They can make plaster casts of footprints – even in the snow – that turn out remarkably well. But, unlike in the movies, the casts don’t immediately reveal the suspect weighed 180 pounds and limped on his right leg.
The ERT lifts fingerprints with powder and tape still, but they can also use gel, and they use basic vacuums to collect hair and fibers. The only difference on the vacuum is the collection cup at the end of the hose, which is shipped off to the lab.
The agents also use those special lights to spot evidence. You’ve probably seen something like it on “CSI” or “Bones.” Except a room must be pitch black so the light will make semen, saliva and sweat glow – but not blood. This is a misnomer those shows rely on every week. Sorry to take the steam out of your sails, Hollywood.
Another thing Hollywood does not highlight about the bureau is the priority it places on our freedoms, especially our civil rights. Protecting them is high on the FBI’s top 10 list of priorities.
One agent cited Benjamin Franklin: “Keeping government honest and hence our freedoms intact requires eternal vigilance."
The bottom line is that the government cannot protect our civil rights if it is compromised.
Supervisory Special Agent John Frain said corruption survives if it becomes systemic. Corruption can come from monopoly of power, weak supervision, a lack of transparency and accountability, and inadequate checks and balances.
The FBI regularly investigates