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Inside the FBI: A trip through the Norfolk Field Office's Citizen's Academy program

Only 2% of people make it through the special agent application process, according to Special Agent Jennifer Bach.

CHESAPEAKE, Va. — Most people don’t know what happens behind the closed doors of 509 Resource Row in Chesapeake, where the Norfolk Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is located.

But for eight weeks, 13News Now caught a small glimpse into the office's operations through its Citizen's Academy training program.

"We’ve gotten feedback that it’s not like the movies or television. Real-life is totally different," Special Agent in Charge Brian Dugan told 13News Now. 

For two months, civilians from across the seven cities get to learn about what exactly goes on behind the scenes of the FBI: the work of special agents, investigations and more. 

"It’s always been an opportunity to de-mystify the FBI," SAC Dugan said. 

Just some of the topics include:

  • Recruiting
  • Legal and deadly force briefings
  • White-collar crime 
  • Counterintelligence
  • SWAT 
  • Counterterrorism 
  • Victims services and crimes against children
  • Violent crime/gangs/safe streets
  • Cybercrime

Classes are a mixture between lectures and hands-on training simulations, like a day spent at a local firing range.

“When you’re confronted with someone with a cell phone versus a handgun, it shows these decisions need to be made quickly," SAC Dugan said. 

You quickly learn it takes a lot to become a special agent with the FBI. It’s a selective process that goes even beyond the firing range.

"The average process time is about a year from start to finish," Special Agent Jennifer Bach, who spent roughly eight years as the field office's applicant coordinator and recruiter, said.

Every year, the Norfolk Field Office sends roughly 15 new agent trainees to the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia.

“That’s actually quite a bit for the size of our office," SA Bach said. 

While the Norfolk Field Office is the third smallest of the 56 across the country, it receives hundreds of special agent applications every year. The pass rate just to get accepted before training begins is only about two percent.

And of those hundreds of applications, SA Bach shared a common trend she's noticed in her years involved with the recruitment process: many hopefuls today lack a common life skill of in-person communication. 

“Communication is a skill we’re losing as a society as a whole. We’re seeing that in our recruitment process," she said. 

SA Bach said many of the applicants from Hampton Roads are impressive on paper. But in an age of text messaging and technology, many have also lost the ability to simply connect. 

“You find that applicants don’t give you that attentiveness, their brains are already five sentences ahead. They’re thinking about something else, and I always put in perspective of ‘If you’re doing this with me, what is a victim of one of the most horrific things they've experienced going to feel if you give them that level of attentiveness'," she said. 

So if being able to talk face to face is a skill you feel you have, SA Bach said maybe it’s a sign to consider a career change.

"You get them [some applicants] in a room and they’re uncomfortable having and maintaining eye contact," she said.

There are less than 200 people -- including special agents and professional staff -- that make up the Norfolk FBI Field Office.

People interested in participating in future Citizen's Academy programs can reach out to community outreach for the FBI Norfolk Field Office.

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