“Cannon encourages women in law enforcement to use their valuable skills and realize it is acceptable to show sensitivity and compassion on the job.”
After U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) stood up, Cannon reached a milestone in her career and for women in federal law enforcement. In 2004, she became the first female Resident Agent in Charge of the Fort Pierce, Florida, field office, a border protection post. ICE made a good decision putting Cannon in charge and she also had the support of her predecessor, Alan Westerman. “I think she’s got the background and experience for the job up here and she’s going to do a fine job,” he said.[i]
After many years of service and now retired from ICE, Cannon oversees the Association of Customs and HSI Special Agents (ACHSIA) as Executive Director.
Cannon believes federal law enforcement for women has changed for the better and provides a more conducive environment than it did when she started out in the mid-eighties, but questions the sacrifices women made for acceptance: “When I got the call, I was there, period. My go-bag was always packed and ready to go. Now there exists a worklife balance, but back then, female, and male, agents coming up were told, ‘if we wanted you to have a personal life, we would have issued it to you.’ That is what the majority of us lived by – to the detriment of our relationships and families.
I never thought of myself as a woman; I always thought of myself as an agent.”
Special Agent Cannon and Agent Van Lindsey on National Night Out in Sebastian, Florida, in 2012.
Despite those challenging times, Cannon’s early career was fun and satisfying. “Everyone worked hard, but played hard too. Things were on a smaller scale, and you had a very tight esprit d’corps.”
She encourages women at ICE, other federal agencies, and in state and local law enforcement to use their valuable skills and realize it is acceptable to show sensitivity and compassion on the job. Most importantly, women cannot allow anyone to prevent them from achieving their goals.
She believes that the job of federal law enforcement is about working as a team to protect the people and commerce of the U.S. while putting criminals in jail.
“Everything works much better when people work together rather than for themselves. Women can lead investigations away from people seeking individual glory and toward team work and the greater good. It’s about working together so everyone can share the success.”
i The News, St. Lucie County, “There’s a new federal agent in town,” August 8, 2004. | return to text
Serving People, Serves Mission: Carol Libbey
"What do we do with her?"
The male supervisor assigned to Carol Libbey in the mid-1980s asked the question. Across the room, his colleague looked at Libbey and stated, "I need a cup of coffee." Libbey replied, "there's the pot," and began her career as one of the first female federal law enforcement officers in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.
Carol Libbey embodies many women at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and other federal agencies: employees who do great work while serving their missions and the American people.
Libbey benefitted from a cooperative education - alternating school and paid field work every semester - in criminal justice at Northeastern University. She was hired as a co-op student with the U.S. Customs Service, then part of the U.S. Department of Treasury Department, and the experience led to a full-time position as Customs Investigator.
At U.S. Customs in 1985, Libbey, and other officers, patrolled the water around Ft. Lauderdale looking for boats approaching land from foreign destinations; boats approaching from outside a three-mile radius were automatically considered foreign. The small boats would sometimes travel out to a larger vessel and offload cargo to bring into shore. Often, U.S. Customs partnered with state and local law enforcement agencies.
Libbey's typical shift could be a week of days or nights. The intensity, pace, and stress of it was relentless. While working as a female officer with mostly male colleagues and unwinding ropes to take the boats out from the dock, Libbey remembers hearing one of her colleagues stating, "women shouldn't be in law enforcement." Unfortunately, the comment was made right before they were departing for their shift.
Officer Libbey chose pragmatism as a response, "Fine, but get the lines ready; it's time to go out."
She did her job.
She made her reputation on the outstanding quality of her work.
"You're not going to change their minds," she said, "so there is no point starting an argument. You go do your job. You do it to the best of your ability."
She made her reputation on the outstanding quality of her work. On one of her patrols, the officers investigated a 25-foot outboard vessel. Her colleagues were ready to clear it but Libbey could not take her eyes off two white leather pillar seats. “They said they were fishing, but I don’t see any fishing equipment,” she said. “Let’s remove these seats and take a look.”
After removing the seats, the officers peered beneath the deck and found hundreds of pounds of marijuana, wrapped and lining the entire fiberglass hull of the vessel. Libbey heard fewer comments from her colleagues after that.
While in Ft. Lauderdale, Libbey shared her experience with the younger generation. She led the U. S. Customs supported Explorers; a program in which agency representatives met with youth of the community and conducted a program that developed character, leadership, citizenship and life skills through basic law enforcement training.
Libbey became part of the interagency Florida Joint Task Group started by President George H.W. Bush. She worked in conjunction with Drug Enforcement Administration and, some weeks, made up to 25 individual arrests.
Libbey moved to Miami in 1989 and became part of the interagency Florida Joint Task Group started by President George H.W. Bush. Libbey worked in conjunction with Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents as part of the initiative. U.S. Customs and DEA agents worked in teams, at places like the Miami International Airport, conducted surveillance on people and cargo, searched for drugs and made arrests. Some weeks, Libbey made up to 25 individual arrests.
While working at U.S. Customs, Libbey was on the forefront of creating policy and establishing guidelines for working with seized property and confidential informants and for undercover operations. During a reorganization of U.S. Customs, the Miami office formed a group of agents to write new guidelines, in which Libbey was instrumental. Many of ICE's current guidelines are based on what was developed by U.S. Customs.
She later joined the Miami Investigative Drug Asset Seizure Group in Miami, known as "MIDAS," the first U.S. Customs asset forfeiture group in the nation which focused on seizing goods bought with proceeds from illegal crimes. MIDAS developed as a method to deter repeat offenders; defendants were willing to go to prison rather than forfeit their goods to the government. Once released, they would begin their illegal activities again, using their assets. Asset forfeiture puts the focus on seizing all goods at the of time illegal activity so there are no assets to use in future crimes.
MIDAS seized houses, boats, money and anything of value, including a Salvador Dalí painting and a moon rock. Libbey lent her expertise to a six-month detail in Las Vegas to assist with a multimillion dollar fraud and money laundering investigation. A Japanese citizen sold hundreds of memberships to a non-existent golf course and brought the proceeds to the United States. What monies he did not gamble away, he used to purchase two golf courses, a hotel, multiple houses in several states, cars and jewelry. Everything was seized and forfeited to the Treasury Forfeiture Fund.
One of the largest cases Libbey worked in Miami was with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Internal Revenue Service. The subject was buying and selling illegal Freon, and hiding all his holdings in different shell corporations. He was arrested and his proceeds, including a bottling plant, were seized in the largest asset forfeiture case for EPA violations at the time. Libbey, with the other cases agents, received the EPA National Stratospheric Ozone Protection Award that year for their work on the case.
As a program manager in the earliest days of ICE, Libbey led all ICE Asset Investigative Removal Groups nationwide. In addition, she shared her expertise by helping to create asset forfeiture curriculum and teaching courses.
As part of her duties at ICE, during the Department of Homeland Security's first years, Libbey acted as ICE liaison to the DHS Assistant Secretary for Border and Transportation Security. Her expertise on customs' issues assisted DHS in coordinating functions with other agencies, many of which were not familiar with the U.S. Customs-ICE mission.
Now retired, her final years at ICE were spent with the Office of Professional Responsibility, Professional Investigations Unit.
Libbey served the mission of ICE by acting in supervisory positions whenever the opportunity arose. She advises others to find mentors and opportunities where they can; "If you're in a smaller office, seek out a female mentor in a larger office or try a detail. Remember you don't always have to reach out to a female; you can also reach out to a male friend or mentor. Joining a professional organization, like Women in Federal Law Enforcement (WIFLE)[i] can be a good way to meet people, get involved and find mentors."
Working as a volunteer for the Association of Customs and HSI Special Agents (ACHSIA)[ii], Libbey works to connect older members to younger ones to share hard-earned wisdom.
After a full career in federal law enforcement, public service and volunteer work, Libbey imparts the following advice to women aspiring to law enforcement careers; "Women must decide for themselves what success looks like. If you choose the path that makes you happy, then there really is no glass ceiling."
i, ii Disclaimer: The mention of any non-government organization does not constitute an ICE endorsement or sanction of the organization’s products, services, objectives or membership. | return to text
Lead From Where You Are: Robyn Schmidt
"Leadership Year will be our chance to reinforce a culture of leadership excellence throughout the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and highlight the importance of leadership at all levels." With these words, DHS Leadership Year launched in October 2017.
Senior DHS leadership spent the previous months visiting DHS employees across the country, recognized leadership exhibited at every level of employment and felt inspired to develop an initiative to encourage and cultivate that leadership.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) boasts a legacy of strong leaders from each of the agencies that came together under the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to form ICE.
In 1983, retired ICE Management Program Analyst Robyn Schmidt already epitomized one of the Leadership Year's themes: Lead From Where You Are. Working for the U.S. Customs Service in Miami, Florida, she reported to the Assistant Regional Commissioner for Enforcement.
“Schmidt did not have a narrowly defined list of duties.”
Schmidt did not have a narrowly defined list of duties. In the early days of her tenure, she managed a very busy office and handled all administrative work in support of enforcement operations. "At that time," Schmidt said, "every special-agent-in-charge office within the southeast region reported to our office for all their investigative and administrative needs."
Using a pragmatic approach, Schmidt maintained good working relationships with all the agents she worked with; "I was the only woman in that office and I let them know I was the boss and that was how things had to be; they knew they needed me. Things were the same for everyone." She was engaged and integrated into the agents' work by being involved in every aspect of each process.
"The job gave me a broad picture of what U.S. Customs did," she said. "Every morning, I read the reports of investigation the agents from all offices generated and learned what they were doing out on the streets. I was able to put the pieces of the puzzle together." The fact that she was at work by 6:30 a.m. gave her an early start on the day. Schmidt noticed an increase in the number of female employees, "As the years passed, several other women did come to our office in various positions."
The Regional Commissioner Offices were dismantled in 1991 and the structure of the Office of Investigations changed; Schmidt transitioned to Logistics Management for the Special Agent in Charge, Miami office.
Once ICE stood up in 2003, Schmidt managed over 400 government vehicles, the associated communications equipment, resulting evidence and the closed case file room as a Logistics Team Leader.
“I remember in the early days, when women came in, even as agents, it was expected that they would do the de facto administrative work. You would hear, 'You're supposed to make the coffee because you're the girl.'”
It was during this time, she started to notice more women leading at ICE. "They started recruiting more women at Miami and group supervisors were women," Schmidt said. "This was when I worked under my first female Assistant Agent in Charge for Administration, Rachel Cannon. Women were coming in and wanting to lead. I remember in the early days, when women came in, even as agents, it was expected that they would do the de facto administrative work. You would hear, 'You're supposed to make the coffee because you're the girl.'
"Well, I don't make the coffee."
Schmidt rounded out her career working in the ICE Homeland Security Investigations Technical Operations Unit in Lorton, Virginia - "I worked under my first woman Unit Chief at the end of my career and she was an outstanding person and leader."
Schmidt encourages new ICE agents and officers to experience law enforcement from the administrative side as part of their training. "If an agent wants to become a manager at some point, she needs to understand what mission support does and how they do it," she said. "In Miami, when the Academy sent new agents for training, we encouraged the special agent in charge to have them rotate through the mission support areas. I would have them in the closed case file room and evidence room to learn the big picture. 'To do is to learn' is my motto."
Her advice to ICE employees in mission support and agents is the same; "Keep an open mind and don't judge people when you first meet them; let them show themselves to you. Keep a positive attitude about the job and be willing to learn."