Monday, November 29, 2010

FBI Citizen’s Academy Week 6 - Violent Crime

As always, any errors here are mine, not the FBI’s.

The evening began with some information about FBI hiring. Last year they hired 914 special agents and 550 analysts, with a total hiring of 1988, including all support personnel. Despite the economy and cutbacks they are planning to hire something close to that number this year.

New jobs are posted at on Tuesdays. Sadly, you can’t be older than 37 to start the special agent training program. That lets me out.

They also have an honors internship program for college students, who must have a 3.0 GPA and be enrolled full-time in college. The program runs from May-August in both headquarters and certain field offices, and gives students an overview of what the FBI does.

This week was the one I think is going to be most relevant to the writing of crime novels, because the agent who spoke to us was from the violent crime squad, which encompasses most of the kind of crimes we write about.

We began with a discussion of crime on the high seas, for which the FBI has sole jurisdiction. The most prevalent crimes are assault and sexual assault (primarily on cruise ships) though also investigate murder, suicide, and high-end theft cases.

They have an emergency response team (ERT), mostly comprised of former law enforcement personnel, that go out to investigate the crimes on board, usually once the ship has docked.

They also investigate cargo theft; the biggest hub for ocean-borne cargo theft is here in Miami, because the cargo is exported through the Port of Miami. In the past they have found stolen cargo including truckloads of wheelchairs, portable toilets, electronics, cell phones, TVs, and even rubber duckies.

The investigation of art theft also comes under the jurisdiction of the violent crime squad. “If it has been stolen, it comes through Miami,” the agent said-- not that the art was stolen here, but it passes through here on its way to the eventual buyer. The intrastate nature of the theft is what brings it under the FBI’s jurisdiction.

There is an art theft registry-- a database of stolen art that helps agents figure out if a piece of art has been stolen. These agents get a lotof detailed training on detecting fraud in art work. I think this is a really interesting area and might like to investigate this more and perhaps write something.

I do have an agent character in mind-- he appears in my forthcoming M/M romance Mi Amor, set on South Beach, and due out from Loose Id in early 2011. There’s a minor character in that book, a red-headed special agent named Angus Green, and something about him intrigues me. I’ve been very happy that the opportunity to attend the FBI Academy came up now, as I’m thinking about how Angus can spin off into his own book, or his own series.

Art theft is definitely a possibility, as is jewelry theft, which is another area the violent crime squad is involved with. Primarily this is crime against jewelry distributors; there is a big trade show in October and many distributors are targeted. The FBI has a task force that works with local departments on these crimes.

The violent crime squad also works on bank robberies, fugitive apprehensions, armored car robberies, and kidnappings/extortions-- though these are rare. There have been numerous armored car robberies in South Florida lately, and bank robberies are common. The criminals know that bank employees are trained to give up the money without a fight, so they are easy targets. But the statistics we were shown indicate that there’s relatively little money stolen in each case-- sometimes only a few thousand dollars. Maybe it’s low risk, but certainly low reward as well.

As an American citizen, if you go to certain countries (Mexico and Haiti among them) you are a target for kidnapping. The FBI gets involved in these cases. They work a lot of email extortion crimes-- sometimes the victim is kidnapped and then released, but threatened with additional violence if he doesn’t cooperate and pay.

They also have one squad which focuses on crimes against children, including the Innocent Images Squad, which looks at child porn.

Most crimes, the agent indicated, are solved by the evidence and forensics. He mentioned a device called a Shot-Spotter, which can detect where a bullet was shot from using triangulation. He also mentioned the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crimes, or NCAVC. This group provides behavioral-based support in investigations-- what I guess we would call profiling.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

FBI Citizen's Academy Week 5

As always, any errors here are mine, not the FBI’s.

Last week, I got some extra information from one of my fellow students at the FBI academy. I wanted to know exactly which guns we shot the week before in our trip to the Dade County police firing range.

We shot the Glock 22, with 40 caliber ammunition.

The long-barrel gun was an H &K MP5, 10 millimeter, with a long barrel. It can be used in semi-automatic or full automatic mode, though we only shot in semi-automatic.

The shotgun was a Remington 12 gauge with a 14” barrel. The shorter barrel is important because it’s easier to conceal and to carry in and out of vehicles.

Week 5 was about counter-terrorism and legal issues.

Miami is one of the top 5 offices in the country size-wise, and the South Florida Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) in this office has 38 participating agencies and 159 full time personnel including FBI agents, analysts, and personnel on loan from partner agencies.

The FBI’s number one priority is protection of the US from terrorist attack, and the JTTF encompasses nine counter-terrorism squads called T1 – T9. T1 focuses on Al Qaeda, T3 on Hezbollah, T4 on threat response, and T5 on extra-territorial kidnappings & other events.

The state & local officers who work with the FBI on the JTTF get the same top secret clearance as Bureau agents, and get full access to the FBI facility and all databases. They also carry cases just like the Federal agents.

The FBI defines international terrorism as criminal violations intended to intimidate, coerce or influence.

Domestic terrorism comes from many places. The right wing, such as white supremacist groups; the left wing, such as Marxist or Leninists; and those groups focused on a single issue, such as eco-terrorists, anti-abortion activitsts, and animal rights activists.

After a break we discussed the legal issues the FBI faces, focusing on the 1st and 4th amendments. The FBI can’t target someone who is exercising his 1st amendment rights, such as freedom of speech. And the 4th amendment, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure, requires the FBI to justify their case when getting search warrants.

An interesting term that arose was “curtilage,” which the agent defined as the area immediately around your property. This means that an outdoor area can be legally coupled with the property it surrounds, even though it’s not part of the structure. This is important when it comes to what you need a search warrant for. If an agent sees something in the yard, it may fall within the curtilage. Trash in a a bag next to the house, for example, would still be within the curtilage and the agent would need a warrant to search it.

Trash in a bag at the street, however, is outside the curtilage and can be seen as having been abandoned. Therefore the agent doesn’t need a warrant to search it. This is an interesting term and one I would like to explore further. I checked Wikipedia and curtilage has other uses, including with the definition of burglary.