By J. Coyden Palmer, Chicago Crusader
Historically, the Federal Bureau of Investigation does not have the best reputation within the African American community. The highest-ranking law enforcement agency in the country has itself to blame for much of that. Agents in the Chicago field office are hoping a new program aimed at college students will help demystify the organization and let people know the days of J. Edgar Hoover are gone and the FBI is a multi-faceted, multi-cultural organization in 2017 that needs you.
Unlike local police agencies that often create effective public relations via an “officer friendly” who goes to schools and meets kids at a young age, people know nothing about the FBI except what they see on TV and in movies, according to Supervisory Special Agent Jeffrey Moore, who was born and raised on Chicago’s South Side.
That means even those who are interested in an FBI career have to research on their own to find out the information they need. Moore believes the mystery surrounding the agency has hurt the Bureau, and with America being more diverse now than ever before, says the FBI must become more racially diverse as well.
“The key to the effectiveness of any law enforcement agency is the trust and confidence the community has in it. That is necessary for cooperation, support, and to show that we are a part of the community. Everyone’s goals are the same so in developing that relationship with the community we have several formal and informal initiatives,” Moore said. “Quite often the FBI is a mystery so people are standoffish towards us because they don’t know what we are about.”
One formal initiative is the FBI Student Academy at the University of Illinois-Chicago, which is in its first year. The FBI holds monthly meetings on campus; agents from the Chicago field office come in and do an hour-long presentation for students and answer questions afterwards.
Early in 2017, the Chicago Crusader received an exclusive invitation to attend the campus meeting. Special Agent Gary Turlington of the Evidence Response Team prepared the presentation for about 50 attentive students, telling them about high-profile cases he worked on, gathering forensic evidence. Among the memorable cases he has worked in his career are the Burr Oak Cemetery Scandal, the exhumation of Emmett Till’s body in 2005, the crash of Flight 93 on 9-11 and the mass shooting at Northern Illinois University on Valentine’s Day in 2008.
There are four, 10 member ERT teams assigned out of the Chicago office. Turlington said the job is never dull and no two cases are ever the same. He explained some of the techniques used at crime scenes. He noted in addition, that many people come to the FBI after having had a professional career in other vocations.
“Having the opportunity to meet and talk with working FBI agents is an advantage students at other schools do not get,” said Isana Guimaraes, a junior Criminal Justice and Psychology major from Elgin, and Vice President of the FBI Student Academy at UIC.
“Before the program, I didn’t know how to talk to the FBI or learn what they do. I’ve always wanted to go into law enforcement … being in this program I’ve learned about all of the different chapters the FBI has.” Guimaraes says the program has helped her get a better understanding of the available career options within the agency.
Each month, the group learns about a different area of specialization in the FBI. Special Agent Moore said people do not understand how diverse the agency is in terms of careers, hiring essential staff in fields like linguistics, chemistry, biology, data analysis, psychology, law and a host of other fields. He has worked in several different fields within the Bureau.
“My current mission is Civil Rights matters, which covers color of law topics, like police misconduct,” Moore said. “We hope the students in the program gain awareness about what the FBI does so moving forward they can be advocates. If they choose to join us that would be a great byproduct of this program, but our main mission is to take away many of the misnomers the public has about what we do.”
Farah Chalisa founded the FBI Student Academy program a few years ago when she was a student at the University of Illinois in Urbana. She said she had always thought about joining the FBI but did not know how. She knew other minorities must have had the same questions she was having so she decided to do something about it. She now oversees the implementation of the program at UIC and at Loyola in Rogers Park.
“This crowd was representative of what we would get at U of I and the ones at Loyola that I attended,” Chalisa said. “On average I would say our attendance is between 35 and 50 people consistently.”
Ernesto Torres grew up on the city’s Southwest side and graduated from Curie High School. He said the people in his neighborhood when they think of the FBI, think of the TV show “Quantico.” He said for him, the experience in the program is something he sees as an opportunity to educate others in his family about the FBI. Like Guimaraes, he is considering a career in law enforcement, but is more interested in just learning about what the agency does. “I think educating yourself on any topic is a good thing, I probably won’t join the FBI but I think it is good to know the things they do and the topics they discuss are always interesting at our sessions.”
Special Agent Moore said early feedback from the programs at UIC and Loyola has been very positive. There are only three such programs in the country and they are all in Illinois. Moore said it is too early to say if the program will be expanded to other colleges in Illinois.