Convention Center General Manager Shares FBI Citizens Academy Experience

She’s a veteran of the conventions and meetings industry, and now our Executive Vice President and General Manager Karen Totaro has a new title: Graduate of the San Diego FBI Citizens Academy.

This spring, Karen joined 29 other community leaders from various backgrounds (business, religious, community and civic) to understand the role the FBI plays in our city. She and the other attendees were vetted and then selected to attend the program.

She took some time to share her experience in the Academy, and more importantly the importance of enrolling as a venue manager and a citizen.


Guest Blog Post by Executive VP & General Manager Karen Totaro

The mission of the San Diego FBI Citizens Academy is to simply foster a greater understanding of the role of federal law enforcement in the community through frank discussion and education. The program brings the community’s civic, business, and religious leaders together to experience firsthand how the FBI investigates crimes and threats to our national security and learn about the various tools and techniques we employ to carry out our mission. I was one of 30 members of the community who made an eight-week time commitment this Spring, attending two-hour evening courses each week.

Our eight weeks gave us insight into how the team actually goes about doing this. Here’s a breakdown of what we experienced.

Week 1:

We learned about the overall organizational structure of the FBI and its 56 field offices, meeting the San Diego Special-Agent-In-Charge, John A. Brown who had a great Chicago accent that reminded me of my hometown. From the start that first night, we heard the passion in the team members voices when they spoke of what they do each day. We also heard directly from U.S. Attorney Adam L. Braverman and how his office works with the FBI to make a difference.

Week 2:

Our focus was on the Intelligence Program and Deadly Force Policy which included time in the Firearm Training Simulator (FATS). This week was the biggest "a-ha" moment, as many of us had the opportunity to experience what it's like for enforcement officers to walk into an unknown situation. It was completely eye-opening. If only we could take that simulator and make it a mobile unit, I feel it would provide the community a much greater understanding in terms of all the variables that have to be considered in a matter of seconds in any given situation.

Week 3:

This week, we discussed counter terrorism, community awareness and countering violent extremism. Living in San Diego, the land of sand, sunshine and surf, it can be hard at times to recognize that where we live is surrounded by vital military installations, an international border, an international airport and a robust biotech community. Even the San Diego Convention Center itself is considered critical infrastructure by the Department of Homeland Security. It's helpful for citizens to be aware of the big picture.

Week 4:

This was Range Day where we actually spent a Saturday at the FBI range interacting with the FBI S.W.A.T. team and their bomb squad to experience their sniper range. It was quite remarkable to see these teams of experts showcase their skills and share how they train. We were able to experience shooting multiple types of weapons and even with all the safety pre-cautions, pulling that trigger made me pause. I certainly feel safer knowing we have these American Heroes out there every day doing what they do to protect us all.

Week 5:

Crime Scene investigations made for a very interactive session where we had the chance to dust for fingerprints and make mini molds of our own. We had the chance to take a behind-the-scenes tour and see first-hand the technology the FBI uses at crime scenes. We also met the experts that do this work every day. The patience these technician experts practice and the thoroughness in the details they focus on at crime scenes can truly make or break a case.

Week 6:

The Cyber Program of the Academy was actually quite fascinating. This is where the FBI says crime has really been growing. We learned how many of the special agents within the FBI have computer and/or accounting backgrounds, which helps them follow the money!

Week 7:

Counterintelligence and an active shooter exercise really captured our attention. The agents were very limited to what they could share with us as far as counterintelligence, but our class did get a much better understanding of what is involved and how crucial it is to keeping us all safe. The active shooter review was beneficial for all of us, especially for my role as a venue manager. We have been taught to RUN, HIDE, and FIGHT, but based on this training, it was clear the best course of survival statistic wise is RUN, RUN, and RUN.

Week 8:

For our final class, we discussed crimes against children, victim assistance and reviewed a murder case. It takes a special team of agents to provide victim assistance and be there for people in their darkest hours. The final review of a murder case from start to finish kept us all mesmerized as the agents who solved the case walked us through the crime from start to finish….fascinating.

When graduation day came, none of us really wanted the experience to end. I had bonded with the other community leaders during the eight weeks, and we all have such an appreciation for the FBI and what they do. I walked away from the experience truly wanting to help and encouraging other leaders to apply for the next cycle of the Academy.

FBI Special Agent in Charge John Brown offered this quote in regards to the importance of community members being engaged in the Academy:

"Community partnerships are key to the success of the FBI mission—protecting the American people.  The partnerships built through the San Diego FBI Citizens Academy are a striking example of the importance of connections with a diverse panel of leaders in our community.

The better we know our communities, the better we can protect them. I want to thank our recent group of community leaders for their time and commitment during the Spring 2018 San Diego FBI Citizens Academy program. By participating in the program and bringing the information forward, they are making a difference in keeping America safe.

For example, these partnerships increases awareness about crime prevention programs; helps to educate their communities to stay safe from fraudsters and cyber predators; encourages businesses to protect themselves from hackers and economic espionage; alerts schools and workplaces to safeguard against violent criminal activity and illegal drugs; and increases reporting of criminal acts, potential acts of terror, and extremism – all endeavors to keep San Diegans safe."

The nomination deadline for the Fall 2018 Citizens Academy is June 1, 2018. The application deadline will be June 15, 2018. The Fall 2018 Citizens Academy class is scheduled to begin on September 11, 2018.

To learn more, contact the San Diego FBI at 858-320-1800.

Barbara Moreno's picture
Posted by Barbara Moreno, on May 25, 2018

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