One man’s eye-opening experiences in the FBI’s Citizens Academy
Flip through a few TV stations and they’re bound to be there: crime dramas complete with federal agents, a puzzling crime, and a mountain of evidence pointing to a few key suspects. In an hour, those cracker-jack FBI agents manage to piece together fingerprint matches, interview every witness, and speed through reams of red tape. But that’s not what really happens.
Last September, Rodolfo Martinez had the opportunity to learn about the FBI from actual FBI agents. For more than 15 years, the FBI Citizens Academy has educated private citizens across the country in an eight-week program. During the 30-plus hours of training, agents go over the various departments within the FBI, evidence collection and processing, forensics, firearms, FBI jurisdiction, and the roles they play nationally as well as locally.
Those selected to be in the Citizens Academy are typically civic, business, or religious leaders in their communities. Rodolfo is the board member for Texas League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Civil Rights Chair in Georgetown. LULAC is a civil rights organization dedicated to improving the lives of Hispanic Americans. Before that, he worked for the federal government in various departments, including as director of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in Hawaii.
Even with decades of federal experience, Rodolfo was amazed at the depth and scope within the Bureau. “They provide us with tons of information that a normal individual doesn’t know so that we’re more aware of what they do and how they do things,” Rodolfo explains.
Collecting fingerprints and DNA at a crime scene isn’t a one-day job. There are multiple ways to retrieve fingerprints, depending on the surface where they’re found. DNA samples could be anywhere: a hairbrush, a single drop of blood left by an attacker, or chewed-up bubblegum in a trash can. Once everything’s collected, it’s sent off to forensic labs to be scanned, processed, and analyzed—but don’t expect the results anytime soon.
“It’s nothing like you would see in the movies or on TV. It takes longer to develop evidence,” Rodolfo says.
Rodolfo’s favorite part of the academy was the day at the firing range. His class shot the FBI’s standard-issue firearm along with a rarely seen but infamous gun. “It was my first time ever at a firing range. I’m from Wisconsin, where there are a lot of hunters, but I never was one. It was an experience because they allowed us to shoot a Tommy gun,” Rodolfo remembers. “It’s the original Bonnie and Clyde gun.”
But Rodolfo’s biggest take-away from the academy was a new sense of situational awareness. “They give you current examples of what’s going on in your state and community that you’re not even aware of,” Rodolfo explains. Agents recounted incidents ranging from computer hackers trying to scam elderly citizens to foreign individuals attempting to buy an Austin-area tech company’s inner secrets.
On November 23, 2015, Rodolfo graduated from the Citizens Academy. Certificate in hand, Rodolfo is now an ambassador for the FBI. His mission is to help build bridges of understanding and cooperation between the FBI and local communities. Rodolfo also plans to create and implement programs through LULAC for the Hispanic community.
“I’m not there to investigate; it’s not my responsibility. I’m the eyes and ears to assist [law enforcement], as is any citizen. However, if I could educate other individuals to report suspicious things and to be more careful and aware of what’s going on in our community, I would be doing my duty as an ambassador for the FBI.”
Learn more about Citizens Academy and other FBI outreach programs at www.fbi.gov/about/community-outreach.