New Agent Training
It’s one of the most important missions of the FBI Academy: minting new agents. Each special agent must have the knowledge, skills, commitment, and fortitude to investigate terrorists, spies, and a raft of dangerous criminals—all while wielding their law enforcement powers with compassion for those they encounter and respect for the U.S. Constitution and the laws they enforce.
It’s the job of the FBI Academy to get agent trainees ready to serve skillfully and faithfully, and when necessary, to send students home if they aren’t fit to be FBI agents.
For the agents in training, just getting in the door hasn’t been easy. They’ve competed against hundreds of thousands of like-minded Americans in one of the most rigorous and selective application processes in the nation. In some cases, they’ve given up high-paying jobs in the private sector for the opportunity to serve their country. Now, the recruits must spend countless hours studying everything from ethics to investigative techniques, learning about Bureau operations, gaining experience in conducting intelligence-led investigations, fine-tuning their computer skills, and pushing their bodies to their physical limits.
How It All Works
The training includes over 800 hours, including a variety of web-based courses, in four major concentrations: academics, case exercises, firearms training, and operational skills.
Currently, new agent training lasts approximately 20 weeks. It’s a tough regimen, but trainees don’t go it alone. They are supported by their classmates—who become close friends and partners over the course of their time together—and by class supervisors, counselors, and instructors who challenge and uplift them.
Since 1934, special agents have been authorized to carry firearms in the performance of their duties. As part of the preparation for potential deadly force encounters, all new agent trainees currently receive training with a Bureau-issued pistol, carbine, and shotgun. The FBI’s basic law enforcement firearms training curriculum is grounded in the fundamentals of marksmanship and includes instruction on firearms safety, weapons orientations, weapon handling skills, and live fire training emphasizing marksmanship and practical shooting techniques. To demonstrate proficiency, trainees must successfully qualify with both the pistol and carbine, and participate in live-fire familiarization with the shotgun. The present firearms curriculum is comprised of 28 sessions totaling 110 hours of instruction, and includes approximately 5,000 rounds of ammunition.
You’ve got to be in great shape and be able to withstand the physical rigors of the job to be a special agent. As a result, agent trainees get a variety of fitness training and must pass a standardized physical fitness test (PFT). To pass the test, trainees must achieve a minimum cumulative score of 12 points with at least one point in each of four areas: sit-ups in one minute, timed 300-meter sprint, push-ups (untimed), and timed 1.5-mile run. See the FBI Jobs website for the scoring scales in each event and protocols for the PFT.
Agent trainees study a broad range of subjects that grounds them in the fundamentals of law, ethics, behavioral science, interviewing and report writing, basic and advanced investigative and intelligence techniques, interrogation, and forensic science. Students learn how to manage and run counterterrorism, counterintelligence, weapons of mass destruction, cyber, and criminal investigations—so they are flexible, well rounded, and able to handle any case upon graduation.
As part of their ethics training, students tour the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. to learn what can happen when law enforcement loses its core values. Students also visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington to gain perspective on civil equality.
This concentration includes everything from defensive tactics to surveillance, from physical fitness to tactical driving. Defensive tactics training focuses on boxing and grappling, handcuffing, control holds, searches of subjects, weapon retention, and disarming techniques. Safe driving techniques are provided at the Academy’s Tactical Emergency Vehicle Operations Center.
Trainees also receive more than 90 hours of instruction and practical exercises focused on tactics, operations planning, operation of cooperating witnesses and informants, physical and electronic surveillance, undercover operations, and the development and dissemination of intelligence. At Hogan’s Alley, trainees conduct interviews, plan and carry out an arrest, perform daytime and nighttime surveillance, and practice street survival techniques taught by their instructors. Real-life exercises include a bank robbery, a kidnapping, an assault on a federal officer, and both compliant and armed and dangerous arrest scenarios. Trainees use paint guns to test their tactical skills.
Playing an important role in new agent training is our Virtual Reality Tactical Training Simulator, or VirtSim, which was developed for the FBI, the first law enforcement agency in the world to acquire it. VirtSim is a three-dimensional technical simulator that employs wireless and motion capture technology to create a virtual 360-degree tactical environment. The system captures full-body motion for each student, projecting corresponding agressor and hostage virtual avatar actions within one of more than 120 different virtual environments, including a school, office complex, apartment, warehouse, barn, airplane, and restaurant.
We use case exercises to test the trainees’ mettle in real-life situations and mirror what they will experience in the field. For example, the students are given an integrated case scenario that starts with a tip and culminates in the arrests of multiple subjects. The investigation plays out on the streets of Hogan’s Alley, our mock town at the Academy that features hired actors playing criminals and terrorists. Another practical exercise—called Capstone—uses culturally diverse role players in a terrorism and intelligence-driven scenario. Trainees also get the chance to present evidence in a moot court.
A select group of supervisory special agents from the Training Division serve as class supervisors for a given session. A rotating pair of special agents from our field offices—called field counselors—are present at the Academy with the new agent trainees, providing advice, counsel, and support. The students are trained by full-time instructors from the Training Division and by experts in counterterrorism, intelligence, forensics, and other areas from across the Bureau. Over the course of the session, our New Agents Training Unit evaluates the trainees to make sure that they are ready to become FBI special agents.
After the trainees successfully complete the training program and are judged to be models of the FBI’s core values, they are ready to graduate. At a special ceremony attended by the students’ family and friends, the FBI Director or his representative swears in the new agents and presents them with their badges and credentials. The class spokesperson, chosen by classmates, addresses the recruits and their families on the challenges faced and obstacles overcome during the training. One new agent is selected by his or her peers and staff to receive the Director’s Leadership Award, and honors are also handed out for top achievers in academics, firearms, and physical fitness.
As they leave the Academy, the new agents pick up their firearms and ammunition. They are now ready to head out to their first office of assignment and begin work as FBI special agents. They will return to the Academy often for specialized training and refresher courses throughout their careers.