FBI demystified at night school Academy: Civic leaders develop an appreciation for the sophisticated crime-fighting agency.

December 02, 1997|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Tucky Ramsey, who is prominent in Baltimore's social life, once imagined the life of an FBI agent as one of boring secrecy. But after spending one night a week for six weeks with agents, learning how the bureau works and what federal agents do, she's changed her mind.

"Their mystique has turned to glamour," she said. "If I was 25 years old today I would want to be an FBI agent."

Ramsey, 62, was among 20 civic leaders invited to the FBI's Citizens' Academy, sponsored by the agency's Baltimore Division. It was the first one by the local division, but officials say they hope to have another in the spring and make it a semiannual event.

A bank fraud investigator, a retired car salesman, members of the NAACP, and an elementary school principal were among the crew that studied the civilian crash course on FBI policy and purpose.

The students didn't talk much the first night, but it took only one afternoon of shooting rifles, machine guns and semiautomatic handguns at the Maryland State Police Liberty Dam firing range to bring them together.

"People got into it much more and became collegial," said Ramsey, who is on the board of directors of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Maryland. "I think it took that kind of activity -- away from lectures and the classroom setting -- for people to socialize. My best was the Uzi, where I got three bull's eyes in a row."

Each week the group packed into a conference room at the FBI's Baltimore field office in Woodlawn and ate catered dinners of baked ziti, turkey and gravy, chicken cordon bleu, salads and mixed vegetables while they listened to agents from different branches of the agency talk about what they do.

The agents gave the class a taste of federal policing, teaching about the FBI's constitutional restrictions, bank robbery and fraud investigations, organized crime, evidence collection and economic espionage.

One evening, Lynne A. Battaglia, U.S. attorney for Maryland, visited the class to talk about initiatives in the U.S. attorney's office. Another night, Evidence Response Team Coordinator David Roden showed the class how a machine that uses static electricity can copy a footprint from a seemingly blank sheet of paper.

"Early on, I thought [the FBI] was a lot like TV -- the bang-bang, shoot-em-up type," said Bill Anderson, equal opportunity officer for the State Department of Education. "I didn't realize the methodology, the techniques they use. That really appealed to me."

Said David R. Knowlton, special agent in charge of the Baltimore FBI office: "We hoped [the academy] would educate prominent citizens of Baltimore about what the FBI is and what it does so that they may have a better appreciation for our part in the community.

"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 academies began in Phoenix in 1993 and have spread to about four FBI offices. Agents who have worked with civic leaders usually recommend them for the class, and applicants undergo a criminal background check.

The course includes firearms training and a SWAT team demonstration. It includes a session on job opportunities in the FBI.

"It's still a viable job option," said Elizabeth Gray, chairwoman of the criminal justice department at Coppin State College. "My thing is, is this still something I would want [my students] to do? And the answer is yes."

Pub Date: 12/02/97

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