Look inside Cleveland FBI with citizens' academy: Sex trafficking, violent crimes squad

CLEVELAND - The FBI Citizens' Academy is a program designed to give business, religious and community leaders, as well as the news media, a look inside the FBI.

The one-a-year academy is made up of 30 members and takes six weeks. This spring, I am part of the FBI Citizens' Academy Class.

Special Agent in Charge of the Cleveland FBI Stephen D. Anthony said the academy is a win-win for the community and the agency.

"Understand how we operate, understand the threats, counter terrorism, the cyber threat or our role in catching spies from stealing our intellectual property or economic security," Anthony said. The goal is to show members of the community how the FBI does business and have participants take the information back to the community.

The citizens' academy touches on a number of different types of crime including organized crime, public corruption and  child exploitation.

"Girls are sent all over the country from cities all across Ohio," said FBI Special Agent Jake Hardie. Hardie has spent a good part of his career trying to stop domestic, minor sex trafficking. "In Toledo, it's a significant problem. In Cleveland, it's an issue."

Toledo is considered a city of origin where children lured into prostitution are shipped to other cities across the country. It's a priority for the FBI.

The agency has enlisted the help of other agencies, formed a task force and work with a victim witness specialist. It is paying off and agents said they are making a difference.

"It's a great feeling to know these child predators, pimps are being put away for a long time and can't hurt anyone else," Hardie said.

FBI Special Agent Tim Kolonick is in charge of the violent crime squad.

"Today alone we had a child prostitution matter that we're working and a bank robbery," Kolonick said on Thursday.

The violent crime squad deals with the most significant violent crimes, like bank robberies, gang investigations, serial rapists and serial murders.

FBI agents said working with other law enforcement agencies, the media and the public is key to solving crimes.

Nominations are accepted through the FBI Citizens' Academy Foundation of Cleveland. Applicants must be a business, civic, or religious leader and at 18 years old. Candidates cannot have felony convictions, and must live and work in the Cleveland field office territory. If selected as a nominee, an application from the FBI is the next step.

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