October 12th, 2007 09:11 EST
FBI Community Outreach
In one room, our experts in community outreach answer tough questions from angry activists in a simulated exercise. In the next, community leaders share best practices and talk through crime prevention strategies.
This was the scene in August in San Antonio, where our community outreach specialists from around the country and graduates of our Citizens’ Academy program joined for dueling conferences with a single mission: to harness the power of partnerships to help protect the public from crime and terrorism.
Both conferences were ground-breaking, for different reasons:
… For the FBI National Citizens Academy Alumni Association, it was the first-ever national meeting. The association is a non-profit that unites alumni of our Citizens’ Academies, which have provided local business, civic, and religious leaders with an inside look at our operations for nearly 15 years.
Though plenty of close relationships are forged among members, the association is no social club. It’s stated mission is all about creating a safer America—specifically, “through community service projects and a process of educating business, labor, media, medical, minority, religious, government, senior citizens, and other community leaders about law enforcement, with particular emphasis on the mission, resources, and limitations of the FBI.”
That includes working on crime awareness and prevention programs, with members drawing on their wide-ranging experiences to exchange and shape effective strategies.
… For our community outreach specialists, the annual training conference took a new turn, centering on efforts that better support Bureau priorities. Hands-on exercises such a mock briefings and town hall meetings, for example, taught participants how to communicate and build partnerships with their communities, even when facing tough questions and hostile audiences.
The conference reflected the new directions of our longstanding Community Outreach Program, which is branching out from its traditional youth-oriented efforts to focus on building long-term alliances with public partners and on opening doors in minority and immigrant communities, including those that may be distrustful of law enforcement.
Special Agent Brett Hovington, head of the Community Relations Unit at FBI Headquarter, says that roles of out specialists go well beyond “warm and fuzzy” meet and greets to putting down roots in communities and creating lasting partnerships.
“The FBI’s outreach professionals come into the community without an operational agenda,” he said. “They’re looking to foster two-way dialogue. The serve as force multipliers for crime prevention strategies and help relay the concerns of a community to their local office and to national headquarters.”
Hovington points to the active involvement of Citizens’ Academy alumni representing all parts of the country, major segments of the private and public sector, and many religious and ethnic backgrounds as evidence that this new approach is working.
Our community outreach initiatives, then, work in both directions: first, helping us do a better job of protecting communities by encouraging people to report suspicious activities and crime and giving us a clearer picture of the criminal landscape; and second, by encouraging communities to help themselves through prevention programs that, for example, provide alternates to gangs and drugs and promote cyber safety.
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