TAMPA, Fla. – Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Tampa Special Agent in Charge (SAC) office graduated a third Citizens’ Academy last week.
The graduating members are Harry Barash, retired U.S. Air Force; Kathalin Carvalho, Jabil; Dan Greco, Ark Applications, LLC; Jeremy Black, U.S. Army Central Command; Michelle Hernandez, First American Title; Ryan Irving, Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners; Michelle Nickerson, Sheltair Aviation; Daniel Quintero, Honeywell; Daniel Paasch, Office of Congressman Gus M. Bilirakis; Shay Romine, ThreeBridge Solutions; Meredith Scerba, University of South Florida Athletics; Katie Selman, UnitedHealthcare; and Patrick Storch, The Mortgage Firm Tampa.
“This was one of the most amazing experiences, I had no idea how much I would actually learn and was blown away by how much I didn’t know. I also had no idea all the different areas that HSI investigates, and how closely they work with local law enforcement,” said Michelle Hernandez, an account executive at First American Title. “I’m not only leaving with a wealth of information about HSI, but I now know red flags to look for in certain situations.”
During the eight-week course, HSI Tampa agents introduced participants to national security, financial, narcotics, cyber, global trade, human smuggling/trafficking, and child exploitation investigations. Special agents led participants through a series of real-world experiences and investigative activities. These exercises included learning how to conduct surveillance, interview suspects, plan an operation, apply for and execute a search warrant, and arrest an individual. While taking part in hands on activities, such as basic defensive tactics and entry techniques, participants also explored topics such as when the use of force is justified, decision making in dangerous, stressful circumstances, and the importance of cooperation and collaboration across federal, state and local agencies and with the community. Members of the Citizens Academy gained a greater understanding of the mission of HSI and the role of law enforcement in protecting national security.
“Besides the genuine pride the agents take in their jobs, the enthusiasm to engage and share their knowledge with us was amazing. I felt as though we mattered to them, not only as individuals in the community, but as a group in the class room,” said Michelle Nicholson Citizens Academy class president. “I loved the hands-on involvement to better understand what the agents do on a daily basis to protect us.”
Participants for the academy were nominated by local HSI employees for inclusion in the program. Once nominated, the interested community members had to submit an application and undergo a limited background check before ultimately being selected to participate. The HSI Tampa Citizens’ Academy received more applicants than there were slots available so acceptance was limited, but the office is already looking forward to hosting the next class.