Definitions

Special agent

Special agent

Within the United States, the title of Special Agent is used to describe any federal criminal or non-criminal investigator or detective in the 1811, 1801, 2501 or similar job series as so titled according to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) handbook. Agents are typically educated at least as far as the college undergraduate level. Such persons are usually armed and have the power to arrest and conduct investigations into the violation of federal laws.

Employing agencies

Just about every federal agency has some type of special agent, including those employed within the:

For a complete list of federal law enforcement agencies employing federal agents, visit the Federal Law Enforcement Officer's Association (FLEOA) website

Training for the federal criminal investigator

Federal law enforcement training can be divided into various categories, the most common being basic, agency-specific basic (ASB), advanced/specialized, and agency-advanced/specialized. To operate safely and effectively, U.S. special agents and criminal investigators, must possess skills and knowledge regarding criminal and civil law and procedure, enforcement operations, physical techniques, and technical equipment, to mention a few. They must also be physically fit. While possession of a college degree can aid in obtaining employment in this profession, only extensive training provided at specialized facilities, combined with on-the-job training, can provide the skills and knowledge needed to perform the duties of a federal criminal investigator. Competition for these positions, particularly those carrying the 1811 designations, is extraordinarily fierce, with often less than 5% of qualified applicants eventually hired.

U.S. special agents and federal criminal investigators generally receive their basic training at one of two primary locations: the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC), Glynco (Brunswick), Georgia; the FBI or DEA training facilities based in Quantico, Virginia. A third less commonly known training facility is the Career Development Division (CDD) of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service which based in Potomac, Maryland.

As one might assume, only DEA and FBI agents receive their basic training at Quantico. Because of their size and mission scope, the FBI and DEA operate completely self-contained academies that provide all levels of training to their agents. These academies make no distinction between "basic" and "agency-specific basic" training. New FBI and DEA agents train at their academies for almost four months before they begin their first investigative assignment. Both agencies' academies also provide advanced training in various subjects to other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. In fact, the FBI's National Academy is perhaps the most prominently recognized federal supplemental training resource for non-federal and non-U.S. law enforcement personnel throughout the world.

Although a much smaller agency than the FBI or DEA, USPIS also operates a self-contained federal law enforcement training academy. Like FLETC and Quantico, USPIS CDD has been fully accredited by the Federal Law Enforcement Training Accreditation (FLETA) Like the other academies, CDD provides basic training to postal inspectors in firearms, legal, use of force, driving training, crime scene management, controlled deliveries, felony arrests, case management, case development, informant management, surveillance, etc., but also incorporates "agency-specific basic" training to help prepare the USPIS candidates in enforcing postal laws and federal mail statues such as mail fraud, mail theft, and other mail related crimes. In additional to basic training, CDD also provides advanced training for the postal inspectors, the uniformed postal police personnel, and the analysts.

The FLETC, commonly pronounced flet-see, is a consolidated training facility that provides economical basic training to U.S. special agents and other federal law enforcement personnel not employed by the FBI, DEA or USPIS. The FLETC also provides advanced and specialized training for most federal, state, local, and non-U.S. law enforcement agencies willing to share in the cost. The FLETC's basic training course for special agents, the Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP) lasts about 13 weeks, depending on changes to program content or holidays. But CITP only represents the beginning or "basic" training received by U.S. special agents not employed by the FBI, DEA or USPIS.

After completing CITP, most agents immediately transition to training provided by their own agencies (hence the term "agency-specific basic" or "ASB"), lasting another 2 to 16 weeks and sometimes longer, depending on the agency. Some smaller agencies, like the 57 Offices of Inspector General (OIGs), operate consolidated academies, such as the Inspector General Criminal Investigator Academy (IGCIA), through which specialized but common ASB-type skills and knowledge are more economically taught. So agents employed by the OIGs first attend CITP, then attend the IGCIA's IG Investigator Training Program (IGITP), then attend their own agencies' ASB training after completing IGITP, receiving a total of up to 16 weeks or more of training before conducting their first investigation. Many of the agencies utilizing FLETC maintain their individual academies for providing ASB and agency-specific advanced training on the same grounds as FLETC and share use of the same facilities. Some agencies, such as the U.S. Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service and the U.S. Secret Service, conduct their ASB training in separate agency-owned and operated facilities.

For all U.S. special agents, training does not stop after basic and ASB. The career of a federal special agent is one of regular training in new legal issues and investigative techniques, and frequently includes quarterly, if not monthly, refresher training in hand-to-hand defensive tactics, the use of weapons of less than lethal force, and regular qualification in the use of firearms.

Criminal Investigators and the use of the term "Special Agent"

Not all federal criminal investigators are called "Special Agents". Some federal agencies entitle their investigators as "Criminal Investigators" but use the term interchangeably with "Special Agent". Other federal agencies use different titles for the same 1811 criminal investigative job series. 1811 criminal investigators for the US Marshals are entitled "Deputy Marshals". 1811 criminal investigators for the U.S Postal Inspection Service are called "Postal Inspectors". These inspectors were originally called "Surveyors" and received a title change in 1801 to "Special Agent", making them the first Special Agents in the United States. In 1880, the U.S. Congress created the position of "Chief Postal Inspector" and renamed these "Special Agents" to "Postal Inspectors".

Other titles

The terms "Special Agent" and "Secret Agent" are not synonymous. The term "Special Agent" is commonly the official title assigned to individuals employed in that capacity, especially by the U.S. agencies described above (and for the reasons described below), whereas "secret agent" is less of an official title, but is used to describe individuals employed or engaged in espionage. U.S. Special Agents, like state, county, and municipal law enforcement officers, can, at various times, engage in secret or undercover activities as part of investigative "sting operations" or counter-espionage assignments, during which they might be referred to as "undercover agents." U.S. Special Agents may also be referred to, or refer to themselves, as "federal agents/federal officers'." The latter two terms are merely descriptives and not formal titles.

Jurisdictional issues

Exactly which Special Agents have the broadest authority is a matter of debate. The issue of concurrent jurisdiction (in which two agencies have non-exclusive jurisdiction over a given set of the US Code, such as the FBI, ICE and DEA in respect to drug laws) does not make the issue more clear. However Special Agents of many agencies can enforce any federal law while performing their agency specific duties.

ATF, DEA, FBI, USSS, PFPA, USMS, and ICE special agents not only have the power to enforce all federal laws[citation needed], but also applicable state & local laws, if so authorized by the state they are operating within. DCIS (Defense Criminal Investigative Service), NCIS, AFOSI, and USACIDC agents only investigate specific statues within the United States Code that they are authorized to do so; they are also tasked with enforcing the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), a jurisdiction not held by most of the larger federal agencies. DCIS agents are civilian agents with statutory law enforcement authority. Other special agents, such as those employed by the National Park Service have jurisdiction over crimes committed within the boundaries of or have a nexus to the lands managed by their agency or department only.

While certain active duty Special Agents employed by the military do have broad authority, they cannot enforce all federal laws all the time. Most are restricted by law (such as the Posse Comitatus Act) and policy to police military establishments and can only operate outside these restrictions when the nexus of the violation they are investigating occurred on military controlled areas or there is a military connection.

US railroads

All of the major Class I railroads and most regional carriers employ their own police departments whose officers carry the title Special Agent. Railroad Special Agents are commissioned by the Governor or other agency of the state they are employed in, are armed, and carry state arrest powers in all states in which their employing railroad owns property, if authorized by the state. Their primary concern is policing crimes against the railroad, although they sometimes have the authority to police the general public, make arrests on public property, and enforce applicable local, state, and/or federal laws when necessary.

Railroad Police and the term "Special Agent," along with the Pinkerton Detective Agency, were models for the FBI when it was created in 1907.

See also

State, county, municipal, tribal governments

A state or municipal criminal investigator if so titled by the employing agency. This is the case in the Illinois Department of Revenue Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, etc.

Several Native tribes also employ Special Agents as criminal investigators or gaming investigators and some are deputized as special federal officers of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Notes

Agents of the Australian Federal Police are called Federal Agents.

In Popular Culture

In the 1995 film Hackers, one of the primary antagonists was Secret Service Special Agent Richard Gill.

In the popular sci-fi show the x-files the 2 lead characters Fox Mulder and Dana Scully are special agents with the FBI.

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