Monthly Archives: October 2016
It wasn’t easy, but I persevered and got inside an FBI field office. What I saw was…
AMAZING! It was so cool to be there! And it was like breaching Fort Knox to get inside. Seriously.
I was part of a tour group from my local Sisters in Crime chapter, a non-profit organization of lovers of mysteries and thrillers (both readers and authors.)
Weeks before the planned visit to the Jacksonville, Florida field office, I had to fill out forms giving the FBI permission to perform a full background check on me. Since they approved my visit, I’m guessing they totally missed my questionable internet searches such as “how to kill someone and make it look like an accident.”
At the appointed time for the visit, I was told to leave my cell phone and anything that contained GPS tracking technology in my car. So, after divesting myself of all of my clandestine spying equipment, I went into the
maximum security prison office visitor’s booth.
All the walls inside were glass from about waist-level up. A security guard was behind a thick wall of glass to my left and was apparently too scared to come out, because he stayed behind that wall the entire time. He spoke to me by talking into a phone on his side. His voice came through a speaker in the ceiling on my side. First order of business, “The Speech”–the warning about leaving my guns and weapons of mass destruction at home.
Then he instructed me to open a heavy, thick metal door in the bottom part of the wall and to place my purse, my notepad, and my Driver’s License inside the little cubby area behind the door. Once I did that and my door was closed, he opened a door on his side and took my belongings out.
I was then instructed to pass through a metal detector while the guard sent my belongings through an airport-type of scanner. He also instructed me to pass through to the next glass-walled room, after buzzing the lock to open the door for me.
Next was “The Search”. He checked every nook and cranny inside my rather large purse. He felt it up so much that I’m fairly certain there will be dozens of baby purses in my home nine months from now.
Once satisfied that I wasn’t hiding any evil clowns, he placed the purse, my notebook, and a temporary ID into another metal cubby inside the wall. He kept my Driver’s License hostage until the tour was over. Once the door was closed on his side of the cubby, he again directed me through the phone/intercom to open the door on my side to get my belongings.
After all of that, I had finally achieved access to…the courtyard outside the actual FBI building. (sigh) Did I mention the entire facility is surrounded by super-high black metal fencing that could probably stop a tank?
From there, I had to go through another series of security measures. Here’s the short version.
- FOUR FBI agents escorted our tour group of nine people the whole time.
- EVERYTHING is secured and requires codes typed into keypads.
- Before going through a door, the door behind you has to be closed and locked.
- If one person needs to go to the bathroom, we all go to the bathroom. The tour group stays together no matter what.
What did I see while inside the building? Here are some highlights.
- Guns. LOTS of guns. Some of them on the hips of FBI agents. Others in an armory.
- I got to hold a Tommy gun. It was HEAVY.
- I got to hold some bullet-resistant vests. The one the FBI SWAT team wears is super heavy. I could barely hold it up.
- There is a Samurai sword in the armory. Don’t ask me why.
- There are bomb blast doors inside.
- They have commercial washers and dryers inside for the ERT (Evidence Response Team) and others to use. Why? Because when you go to crime scenes in really grungy areas you don’t want to bring the roaches home with you (shiver).
- There was a presentation from a special agent who was on one of the ERT teams sent to Orlando to investigate the night club shooting.
- The gun guy showed us all of those guns. Did I mention they were heavy? Oh – and he was CUTE.
- Best part of the tour? The gym. There were two very special agents working out when we went inside. VERY special.
- We met the Special Agent in Charge. How cool is that? He’s the top guy. In case you didn’t know.
- There was a presentation by a female FBI Special Agent who talked about her specialty, white-collar crime.
- Then we got to ask questions. Crazy questions. And they answered us without even blinking. Which is kind of scary if you think about it.
- Oh, and I forgot to mention. The FBI had a photographer following us around the entire time, taking tons of pictures. To what end, I have no idea. But we did get one picture to take home with us (thus the picture posted on this blog.)
- At the end of the tour, we got to go to a very important last stop–the FBI gift shop. I am now the proud owner of a set of handcuffs and lanyard that say FBI on them. I do have to say, their gift shop was a bit disappointing. Very small without a lot to choose from. I highly recommend the gift shop at the LAPD Police Academy instead. But that’s another blog post.
- My hijacked Driver’s License was returned to me at the visitor’s booth at the end of the tour in exchange for my temporary FBI badge/sticker. Bummer. I wanted to keep the sticker and would have gladly forfeited my license in exchange.
Oh, and did I also mention that when anyone leaves the FBI
fortress compound employee parking lot, they have to punch in a special code to get the gate to open? I guess if you forget the code you have to live in the field office forever.
If I had to describe the visit in one word, I’d say INTENSE.