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Most likely, the extent of your involvement with the FBI is limited to what you’ve seen on the X-Files or the Blacklist. The Bureau just isn’t something the average citizen comes into meaningful contact with. But being an “average citizen,” as peaceful and routine as it might be, might not satisfy you. I’m not saying you should commit a string of felonies across state borders (please don’t), but how does one get involved with the FBI?
Enter the Citizen’s Academy. This nine-week program run by local FBI offices aims to foster better understanding between the FBI and local communities. I spoke to Paul Damon, the Birmingham field office’s spokesman, to learn more about what goes on in this program.
The FBI Citizen’s Academy consists of eight 2-hour classroom sessions. The sessions, Mr. Damon explained to me, cover everything from a history of the FBI to current FBI programs. It’s “FBI 101,” but it’s also more. The instructors use the opportunity to talk about what’s going on in the community, to try and learn more about what people are doing – not necessarily criminal – and why: restaurants, protests, just news.
Who do you know?
Who gets in? Diversity is critical, as the FBI wants to build relationships with all communities and all industries. When you think of “diversity,” you probably think of racial diversity. This goes beyond just racial diversity – religion, race, occupation, and area are all taken into consideration. The FBI also wants to focus on community leaders: ministers, rabbis, priests, business owners, local government officials, and local celebrities. But the biggest factor to getting into the program is being recommended for it. “Participants are selected by the special agent in charge of the local FBI field office” and that, as far as my experience has shown, means either knowing someone (maybe a former participant) or being known by someone.
My last question for Paul was a stretch, and probably a little too probing, but hey, probing is literally my job, and it doesn’t hurt to ask. So, who would you be familiar with who had been through the Citizen’s Academy? Paul said that Don Lupo, who works as the director of the mayor’s office of citizen’s assistance and has a reputation for being a really, really awesome guy who helps to make Birmingham a wonderful place.