It’s 8:30 a.m., and the temperature in the Arizona desert is already approaching triple digits.
Inside an FBI training facility, 50 new special agents listen to instructions from FBI SWAT on how to enter a building with an armed suspect inside. It’s the fifth and final day of the new agent Indian Country Onboarding Program.
This is not a new program in the FBI, but for the first time, it’s being hosted by the FBI Phoenix Field Office. Phoenix has several Native American tribes in its area of responsibility, including the Navajo Nation. Because of this proximity, Phoenix offers firsthand experiences and knowledge to this training and can develop the program further than before.
Within the FBI, more than 150 agents work as the primary law enforcement body on reservations. The FBI has jurisdiction in Indian Country crimes when a major crime happens against a member of a federally recognized tribe within the boundaries of a reservation. The FBI partners on these investigations with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and any local law enforcement partners working on the reservations.
But what makes the work in Indian Country unique and challenging is the isolation. An agent working in a populous like San Francisco or Boston has more immediate access to personnel and facilities that can aid in an investigation.
But agents working in Indian Country more often than not work alone. As Supervisory Special Agent Jerry Grambow puts it, “When you’re working Indian Country, you may be just yourself and a tribal investigator with you out in the middle of nowhere, and you may not even have cell phone reception. You’re going to have to make command decisions and be able to act responsibly and accordingly.”
As such, the Indian Country Onboarding Program develops agents to operate with more autonomy and survivability and a more comprehensive investigative technique.
During the course, agents learn and reinforce previous training on a variety of subjects, including conducting homicide interviews, finding witnesses, defensive tactics, and remote medical care. They also learn about the cultural differences between them and the Native Americans living on this land and how to communicate better with and assist the communities in seeking justice.
For FBI Phoenix, this is hopefully the first of more programs to come. They expressed gratitude for the learning experience they gained as hosts and plan to solicit feedback on how to improve future trainings. The program is “designed to be scalable and flexible so that we can meet the needs of our agents,” said Akil Davis, head of FBI Phoenix.
One agent who completed the training said that “working in Indian Country is the closest an FBI agent can get to being a police detective.” For him, it was a great way to hone many of his skills, including executing search warrants, learning the internal systems and procedures, conducting arrests, and more.
He appreciates how the Indian Country program helps him become a more independently capable agent and that he gets more work and experience working in Indian Country than he might in other parts of the FBI: “There is more work, it’s faster paced, and you become better at technique and better at relating to individuals you might not have a lot in common with.”