The Community Outreach Program.
Law enforcement agencies often suffer from image problems. At worst, the public views them as authoritarian and paramilitaristic, quick to use force, and slow to admit mistakes. At best, citizens do not really know their local law enforcement officers. Fortunately, law enforcement agencies can do something to change the public's perception of them while fighting crime through community partnerships.
For the first six decades of its history, the FBI maintained a low organizational profile. The situation began to change throughout the 1990s, and today's FBI believes that a positive relationship between a community and its law enforcement officers can fight crime as well as any multiagency task force. As a result, employees from all 56 FBI field offices are actively participating in local events.
For example, the Community Outreach Program (COP) has become one of the FBI's most successful community relations efforts. COP sends FBI employees into neighborhoods and schools to work with children as teachers, coaches, and mentors; to represent the Bureau on public occasions; and to help dispel whatever stereotypes may exist about the FBI as an aloof, secretive organization staffed with shadowy, undercover operatives.
The FBI's Community Outreach Program began in 1990 as a pilot program in a sixth grade classroom located in a high-crime area of the District of Columbia and a youth sports team in Alexandria, Virginia. The year before, the Alexandria neighborhood had experienced a drug bust that had gone wrong, ending in a shootout between the police and the drug suspects that left two residents dead. Although not involved in the shootout, the FBI had sent a special weapons and tactics team to the site. That incident fueled anger and resentment in the community toward law enforcement in general and the FBI in particular. This neighborhood would provide a real test of any public relations initiative.
FBI staff developed a 34-segment lesson plan that focused on helping children develop strong citizenship skills. Then, FBI volunteers went into the school and began teaching thirty 11- and 12-year-old youngsters how to become junior special agents. Other FBI volunteers organized neighborhood basketball and softball teams and served as coaches. The success of this initial COP program became clear when the following spring, the parents of the children on the softball teams held an end-of-season picnic and invited the FBI volunteers as honored guests. Today, the program operates in 165 schools and has reached more than 750,000 students. In various adaptations, COP functions in every FBI field office, and it can work virtually anywhere for any law enforcement organization.
Along with FBI field offices, several divisions from FBI headquarters conduct COP activities in the Washington, DC area. Also, the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division in Clarksburg, West Virginia, participates in COP. In July 1995, that division started the Partner in Education Program, initially with the local high school, then with the elementary school, and later a middle school. Another high school entered the partnership in September 1998. CJIS Division staff and volunteers maintain continuing involvement with the four Partner in Education schools, offering a wide range of educational programs, providing guest speakers, and attending special events at the schools. Students from the partnership schools are always on hand at COP events. They go to the CJIS complex to serve as ushers, lead the Pledge of Allegiance, and shake hands with such special guests as FBI Director Louis Freeh and Attorney General Janet Reno. On a regular basis, they accompany CJIS Division staff to community events to help promote the anticrime, antiviolence, antidrug message.
While the Partner in Education concept serves as the foundation of the CJIS Division's COP, the program is continually expanding. Since its inception in 1995, COP has extended its coverage from a single county to an eight-county radius. Employees have developed a community service curriculum and create new programs as community organizations express a need for them. Currently, two full-time staff members organize and manage the COP calendar. The extent and scope of the program clearly demonstrate the support the CJIS Division gives the program.
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE CJIS COP
The Community Fingerprinting Program
Because the CJIS Division serves as the central fingerprint repository for American law enforcement, the division's COP includes a community fingerprinting program for children throughout north central West Virginia. Student volunteers from local high schools come to the complex to receive training and practice on the inkless fingerprint system. Fingerprinting experts from the CJIS Division's Identification and Investigative Services Section provide 5 hours of training to each school team. Then the young technicians, accompanied by COP staff, travel to schools, day-care centers, shopping malls, and area fairs and festivals to fingerprint children and present the prints to their parents for safekeeping in the event of a future emergency. To date, the high school technicians have rolled the prints of more than 13,000 area youngsters.
The easy interaction between the high school technicians and their elementary school subjects benefits both partners. After participating, some of the high school students expressed interest in pursuing a law enforcement career. Others found that they like working with the children and are considering careers in education and social services.
The Junior Special Agent Program
The CJIS Division presents the popular FBI Junior Special Agent Program each year for fifth graders attending the local elementary school. Biweekly, guest speakers present lessons about the FBI and the role of good citizens. Participants pledge to always behave responsibly, to show respect for themselves and others, and to do their best with every task, no matter how small it may seem. FBI special agents, police officers, and other CJIS staff encourage the students to--
* be friendly and polite to others, regardless of racial, religious, or ethnic differences;
* do what they know is right, even if they feel pressured to do something wrong;
* follow all of the rules and laws intended to keep them and their communities safe; and
* learn by listening to adults or others in charge and doing what they say.
Upon completion of the academic-year-long program, the children and their parents attend a graduation ceremony at the CJIS Division complex, and the new junior special agents receive credentials and a badge following their pledge of an Oath of Duty:
I accept the position of junior special agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I promise to be a good citizen. I will obey all the laws of my country and will do my best in school. I will make the right choices by remaining drug free, staying in school, and practicing nonviolent behavior in handling difficult situations.
The School Violence Program
The School Violence Program began as a 2-day seminar presented by experts from the FBI Academy. FBI special agents offered insight into the violent acts that have occurred nationwide in schools and communities. They also discussed common characteristics or behaviors found in youths convicted of violent crimes. More than 700 educators, student teachers, social service workers, church youth group leaders, and parents attended the program. In view of that demonstration of intense interest and concern about the topic, COP staff asked the CJIS Division's Education and Training Services Unit (ETSU) to develop a school violence presentation as a permanent part of the COP curriculum. ETSU staff members now present a 2-hour program numerous times a year to elementary, middle high, and high school faculty, as well as to college-level education students.
The Finish First in the Race Against Drugs Program
In conjunction with the national Race Against Drugs program created by a government employee and former motor sport participant, CJIS sponsors this family-oriented event in partnership with a local auto race course. Once a year on a designated night, FBI employees and their families join other community members at the race track to promote drug awareness to area youth and adults. COP representatives distribute educational information, activity books, bumper stickers, and posters. Some lucky youngsters win autographed photos of well-known NASCAR drivers.
The Right Choice Program
The Right Choice Program offers an adventure film featuring adolescents faced with making the right lifestyle choices concerning peer pressure, drugs, and crime. Following a videotape, former law enforcement officers, who now serve as ETSU training instructors, address the young people and share their firsthand accounts of crime, drugs, and violence.
The Drug-Free America Program
This annual program targets seniors in high schools. Students attend a day-long summit on alcohol and other drug awareness at the CJIS Division Complex. Special guests, such as the head coach for West Virginia University's football team, agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration, and local emergency services personnel help promote the message. In addition, COP volunteers have provided well-attended FBI Career Days in high schools, where the focus is not so much on recruiting future law enforcement officers as delivering the message that students can accomplish any career goal with a drug-free lifestyle.
The Fallen Officers Memorial Ceremony
The Memorial Ceremony in Honor of Fallen West Virginia Law Enforcement Officers, held each spring at the CJIS complex, fosters a sense of community pride in its law enforcement. The annual observance brings together law enforcement officers and business and community leaders from throughout the region to participate in a tribute to West Virginia's law enforcement officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty. The CJIS Division's Multimedia Productions Group plans and orchestrates the ceremony, which recently included a men's chorus, the CJIS Division Police Force Color Guard, and, of course, area students. In planning the ceremony, multimedia staff invited high school vocalists to audition for the opportunity to sing at the program honoring a 26-year-old senior trooper who had died in a duty-related traffic accident in January 1999. The winner of the audition, an 18-year-old girl, sang the hymn Amazing Grace for the family of the honored officer.
New for 2000
Safety Programs soon will become a part of the COP curriculum. Volunteers from the CJIS Division police force will plan and present the program, which will cover gun safety and other areas of interest. Internet safety represents another pressing need that COP soon will address. The CJIS Division's Professional Development and Training Unit is developing a program to help students use the Internet responsibly. Students will learn Internet etiquette and how to avoid inappropriate areas. They also will learn how to respond to improper contacts from others.
When law enforcement agencies reach out to the communities they serve, they strengthen the bonds that keep communities safe while changing the public's perception of law enforcement as aloof and secretive. The FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services Division represents merely one entity that recognizes the value of community outreach. The division makes all of its considerable resources, including many hours of planning, organization, time, and effort, available to its Community Outreach Program.
No one can say with certainty that the division's unstinting civic-service and public-education efforts will lead to reduced crime and violence. However, one thing seems clear: ultimately, the fight against crime, drugs, gangs, and violence can be won only when citizens and their law enforcement agencies join in cooperative partnerships to end such destructive behavior. Every law enforcement agency should invite its neighbors to join in the struggle for stronger and safer communities.
Mr. Holley serves as the community outreach program manager for the FBI'S Criminal Justice In formation Services Division in Clarksburg, West Virginia.
Ms. Fazalare is a community outreach specialist for the FBI's Criminal Justice In formation Services Division in Clarksburg, West Virginia.
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|Title Annotation:||Federal Bureau of Investigation|
|Publication:||The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2000|
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