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Community Outreach Program, FBI

FBI Citizens' Academy

“Early on, I thought the FBI was a lot like TV—the bang-bang, shoot-em-up type... I didn’t realize the methodology, the techniques they use”
—A state education official
“It just dispelled all of the bad things I’d ever heard about the FBI...that the FBI was sneaky and out to get people.”
—An associate dean
“We work pretty close with them on local cases like background checks and bank robberies, but we never really get to see the ins and outs of what they do on a daily was quite an eye-opener as to all they are responsible for.”
—A local police officer

This is precisely the kind of testimony that accounts for why so many FBI Citizens' Academies have sprung up all over the country the past few years—24 of them, in fact: Albany, Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbia, Dallas, Denver, Honolulu, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Little Rock, Memphis, Milwaukee, Newark, Omaha, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Portland, St. Louis, and Washington, D.C.

The academies give business, civic, religious, and community leaders an inside look at federal law enforcement in general and the FBI in particular. Their overall goal is to foster relationships and understanding between an FBI field office and its community—and so improve the Bureau’s ability to solve/detect crimes... and help citizens' make their communities a better and safer place.

A little history

Back in 1993, Jim Ahearn, then-Special Agent in Charge (SAC) of the FBI's Phoenix Division, began looking for ways to strengthen the field office’s relationship with the community. He decided on a “citizens' academy” modeled after one run by a local police agency.

Since then, the Citizens' Academies have made their mark—both on the FBI and on their communities. For example:

  • In Phoenix, alumni of the Academy have taken part in a reverse boiler room. They call potential victims of telemarketing fraud to warn them that their names were found on “mooch” lists maintained by fraudulent telemarketers. Citizens' Academy alumni also take part in the Phoenix Office’s Adopt-A-School Program, and they often refer names of potential Special Agent applicants to the office.
  • Some participants of the Philadelphia Citizens' Academy gained a deeper understanding of FBI operations after a trip to the FBI Academy, where after classroom instruction, tours of the facilities, and practical exercises, they put everything they learned to the test at Hogan’s Alley. Especially memorable for some of the participants was a turn at FATS (Firearms Training System), which exposes the students to virtual reality “life-and-death” situations—and helps them experience what Special Agents in real life-and-death situations experience.


  • Must be a business, civic, religious, or community leader.
  • Must be at least 21 years old (with no prior felony convictions).
  • Must live or work within the jurisdiction of the field office.
  • Must pass a background investigation.

What they cover

Today, FBI Citizens' Academies have established requirements, goals, and a curriculum. Each session is open to about 20 business, civic, religious, and community leaders who have been nominated by a Bureau employee or a previous Academy attendee. These “students” must be at least 21 years old, with no prior felony convictions, and must live or work within the jurisdiction of the field office. The SAC selects the participants, who must then undergo a background investigation in order to obtain an interim security clearance.

Security clearances must be obtained because part of the curriculum covers investigative techniques used in national security and criminal investigations. Classes are taught by Special Agents in Charge (SACs), Assistant Special Agents in Charge (ASACs), and senior Special Agents (SAs), and there are eight meetings over a 10-week period.

There is a standard curriculum:

  • Practical problems involving the collection and preservation of physical evidence.
  • FBI’s jurisdiction and congressional oversight.
  • Structure and operation of an FBI field office and resident agency.
  • Services the FBI provides to local and state law enforcement agencies.
  • Discussions on ethics, discipline policies, communications, drug enforcement, civil rights, and future trends in law enforcement.
  • Firearms training so participants get an idea of the extensive and responsible weapons training FBI Agents receive (also to foster an understanding of what it is like being faced with split-second, life-and-death decisions).

Bottom line—Are they worth it?

The goodwill and public understanding of the FBI’s mission these academies generate may - over the long haul - make investigators’ jobs easier.

One of the staunchest supporters of FBI Citizens' Academies is the SAC of the Dallas Field Office, Danny Defenbaugh, who believes that developing partnerships with communities is an effective way to garner positive publicity, especially “when the FBI cannot stand up and speak for itself.” And the community is certainly interested in what the FBI has to say: when The Dallas Morning News ran a story announcing the opening of the Dallas Citizens' FBI Academy, 165 people applied for the 20 some slots!

Inspection Division Assistant Director David Knowlton, while serving as Baltimore SAC, said of Baltimore’s Academy: “We try to demystify the FBI. I think putting a human face on the agency goes a long way in building trust with law enforcement.” The current Baltimore SAC, Lynne Hunt, said, “We can’t do our jobs efficiently without help from other law enforcement agencies, and without help from you [the public].” Another supporter is Philadelphia SAC Robert Conforti, who said the academy “pays dividends to the Division far beyond anyone’s imagination.”

Results show that the Academies work. In 1996, when 16-year veteran SA Chuck Reed was killed in the line of duty during an undercover drug buy in Philadelphia, one of the first phone calls to the Philadelphia Office offering assistance came from a citizen who had recently graduated from the office’s Citizens' Academy.

To find out if your local Field Office sponsors a Citizens' Academy, contact your local field office.

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