This is the second part of an on-going series on the militarization of the federal government.
The two federal police agents wearing body armor, one male and one female, entered the store, Glock 19 9mm semi-automatics holstered, to serve a subpoena to the owner, a potential witness in a felony case.
It seemed like a routine matter. The owner accepted the summons without protest as he was locking up his store. A friend of the owner came by to ask him to go fishing. But just as everyone was about to leave, gunshots rang out across the street as another store owner attempted to ward off an armed robber.
As the gunbattle between the shopkeeper and the robber spilled out into the street, the federal agents subdued the suspect, disarmed the shopkeeper and successfully protected the innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire. There were high-fives all around. Mission accomplished. No one hurt. Bad guy apprehended.
An FBI case file? A TV action show script? No. This was a training simulation of the kind thousands of agents go through every year at the 1,500-acre site of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia. The cops, in this case, weren’t agents of the FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Secret Service, U.S. Marshals Office or any other federal law enforcement agency typically associated with street shootouts. Instead, they were two of 200 agents of the Environmental Protection Agency, charged specifically with investigating “environmental crimes,” but trained in a state-of-the-art facility and equipped with an arsenal capable of deadly force, to deal with virtually any other crisis situation that might arise.
The FLETC training center is the hub of an effort to train thousands of new federal law enforcement officers in dozens of agencies and upgrade their firepower with modern, high-capacity, semi-automatic weapons. It is also the central networking agency for a growing standing army of federal police forces — an army now numbering around 60,000, according to the best information publicly available from U.S. government sources.
“In the past 10 years, the FLETC has experienced a phenomenal growth in the number of students it trains and the range of instruction it offers,” explains a brochure prepared by the center.
To put the growth of federal police agencies in context, FLETC graduated 848 students in 1970. By 1976, the number of graduates rose to 5,152. Last year, the center graduated 18,849 students. In 1997, projections for the graduating class currently stand at 25,077. Since 1970, 325,000 students have gone through the program.
“As a graphic example of the growth experienced by the center, in just two years — 1989 and 1990 — more students graduated from the center than in its first 10 years,” boasts FLETC promotional material.
While the center also trains some local, state and even international police agents, it does not train the federal government’s largest police force, the FBI, which maintains its own training center at Quantico, Virginia. FLETC is expecting even more growth for the near future — most of it training federal police in at least 70 different agencies, from the Border Patrol to National Aeronautics and Space Administration to the Small Business Administration.
“Recent administration and congressional initiatives and enhanced security concerns in the wake of the tragic Oklahoma City bombing incident have resulted in an unprecedented demand for training,” an official FLETC document reveals. “Participating agencies are projecting they will need to train almost 79,000 students totaling more than 350,000 student weeks of training over the next three years. ”
The surge in training federal law enforcement agents has forced the center to open up two new facilities — one permanent site in Artesia, New Mexico, near Roswell, and another temporary site at a former naval base in Charleston, South Carolina. Civil libertarians concerned about the growth of a federal police force will derive no comfort from other promotional literature produced by the center.
“A dimension of quality, which is also a function of consolidated training, is the comingling of students from many agencies and the networking and interagency cooperation it fosters,” the document reads. “While difficult to quantify, the resulting sense of a federal law enforcement ‘family’ begins to mitigate traditional turf issues which would be heightened in a separated training environment.”
FLETC operates under the authority of the U.S. Treasury Department and is one of the fastest growing agencies within that department. In 1975, the center, with its staff of 39 employees, moved from Washington, D.C., to Glynco. Today the center has an authorized staff of 487 and an adjunct staff of 96 detailed from participating agencies. The on-site participating agencies, numbering 20, also have staffs exceeding 592.
In 1970, the departments of the Treasury, Interior, Justice, the U.S. Civil Service Commission, the Smithsonian Institution, the Office of Management and Budget and the U.S. Postal Service — agencies that comprised the bulk of the federal government’s law enforcement activity — signed a memorandum of understanding to create FLETC. It was established by Treasury Order 217 on March 2 of that year. The original signatories represented the first clients of the training center. That base has now expanded to at least 70 federal agencies.
While the increases in armed federal police agents have been most dramatic during the Clinton administration years, FLETC Director Charles F. Rinkevich takes pride in pointing out the “strong commitment” the consolidation efforts have received from Congress.
Since 1989, Congress has approved $53 million in support of the $121.4 million goal FLETC officials deem necessary for facility expansion efforts. One of the other ways the center supports its rapid growth is through fee services to state and local agencies and, increasingly, through training of foreign cops.
“With the break-up of the Eastern Block (sic) countries, the FLETC will be required to play an increasing role in providing law enforcement training to the emerging democracies while at the same time continuing to support the training needs of other foreign countries,” reads Objective 1.4 of the center’s strategic goals statement.
The center has trained agents of the governments of Brazil, Poland, Russia and Romania and provided assistance to the International Law Enforcement Academy in Budapest.
Besides training law enforcement officers in tactics, survival skills and the use of weapons, the center established in 1989 the Financial Fraud Institute, whose specialty is training related to financial and high-technology crimes including special courses in asset forfeiture procedures, insurance fraud, illegal tax shelters and computer and telecommunications investigative procedures.
Critics of the growing militarization of the federal government will also take no comfort in the fact that the center’s program was designed with the help of a team of experts from the U.S. military.
“The Department of Defense Army-Air Force Center for Low Intensity Conflict played a key role in the development of this plan by facilitating the planning process for Task Force 2002 and the implementation planning group,” one FLETC document explains. “Prior to assisting FLETC, CLIC facilitated the development of strategic plans for the Drug Enforcement Administration, Project North Star and others.