The Federal Bureau of Investigation goes after terrorists, mobsters, bombers and bank robbers, but its agents also fight myths and misconceptions about how they do their jobs.
One tool for dispelling the movie image of the hotshot “G-men” is the FBI Citizens Academy — a six-week course held in the bureau’s 56 field offices across the country each year with local community leaders and members of the media.
The FBI’s Cincinnati field office has cycled roughly 450 community leaders through the academy since it started in 2000, said FBI spokesman Todd Lindgren. The outreach effort helps the FBI get community contacts and the students gain inroads into the bureau.
“It’s really giving them an idea of what the FBI is really about as opposed to what they see on TV,” said Kevin Cornelius, Special Agent in Charge of the Cincinnati field office.
The FBI invites people who hold influential positions in education, religious communities, cyber security, research, media and business to participate. This year, 47 students went through the Cincinnati field office’s academy. Classes were held in Columbus and Cincinnati.
“It’s been most useful to see the structure of the bureau, see the way the agents approach their work and how they collaborate — not only within the bureau but with other law enforcement agencies,” said C. Matthew Curtin, who went through the class in Columbus. Curtin is founder of Interhack Corp., which handles corporate cyber security for clients.
“I was surprised at the scope that they handle. I didn’t realize the ground that they cover and all the different types of cases they handle,” said Jonathon Masteller, a bank fraud team leader for a credit card company. “The contacts that we’ve made are very beneficial, both with the agents and in the class.”
Agents gave briefings on public corruption, white collar crimes, kidnapping negotiations, terrorism, economic espionage, cyber crimes and more. Polygraph experts, bomb technicians, victim advocates, hostage negotiators and evidence technicians walked students through how they do their jobs and what sort of cases they work.
One of the newest FBI squads in Ohio focuses on public corruption. Based in Columbus, the crew has already worked on cases involving former deputy Ohio treasurer Amer Ahmad, former Ohio House members Carlton Weddington and Clayton Luckie and officials connected to a Dayton-area charter school.
Cornelius said the squad has been working in Columbus for about 18 months.
“The priority, again, is to make sure our public servants are above board,” he said. “Frankly, if the FBI doesn’t look at that, there are not that many law enforcement agencies out there addressing the public corruption issue.”
The course ended with a day at the Montgomery County Firearms Range in Vandalia, where students were given a demonstration by the SWAT team and then had a chance to fire handguns, shotguns and rifles used by the FBI.
“Now I know that it is not easy. I have more respect for the guns than ever,” said Itzia Johnson, a housing counselor for the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission and an academy student. “I just respect it more. It’s a whole new understanding.”
Dayton Daily News Columbus Bureau reporter Laura Bischoff was a student in the FBI Citizens Academy this spring.