Young Pup’s New Trick
By Jim Kuiken
When I first got promoted from a Border Patrol Agent in Calexico California to a Special Agent in Los Angeles, I started from the bottom all over again – which is expected. I did have a leg up on a lot of the new Special Agents, in that I wasn’t just fresh out of college with a degree, with no life experience and thinking that hardship was a two-man dorm room paid for by daddy.
I’d been a combat (wounded) Marine, a State Correctional Officer, a County Sheriff’s Deputy, an INS Detention Officer, and a Border Patrol Agent in some of the roughest areas on the southern border. Plus I did have some college…paid for on my own by working two jobs while I was attending full time…
Nevertheless, I paid my dues there in LA by working ACAP (pulling criminal illegal aliens out of jails and prisons and putting them up for deportation), then working my way up to VGTF (violent gang task force, chasing down gang members in the streets of LA, Compton, Westminster, Long Beach, etc.), Fraud (counterfeiting operations, undercover buys, drugs/guns/smuggling, etc.), and even as a supervisor running the TSU (technical surveillance unit, using cameras, vehicle tracking devices, listening devices, etc., to enhance various unit’s surveillance capabilities during operations), and overseeing the District’s training program (pre and post Academy, and as an Academy instructor).
I finally got my dream job there in LA, when the District Director (Mac) asked me to help him create and run a specialty unit – Special Investigations Unit. SIU was a composite of all the weird ducks that didn’t fit anywhere else, and were some of the most complicated and dangerous operations…and some that the regular units didn’t want to get involved in. It was eventually comprised of several (former) units that now fell under the SIU umbrella.
Some of these were: Fugitive Task Force (high risk fugitives and high risk warrant entries – many of these were violent multiple murderers, etc., wanted by their own countries), Organized Crime Task Force (to locate, disrupt, and arrest organized crime organizations), OCDETF – Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (drug smuggling and sales organizations and rings, etc.), JTTF (Joint Terrorism Task Force, assigned to and working with the FBI-led task force on international terrorism and terrorist suspects), as well as Sensitive Investigations…we’ll leave that one alone…
Mac allowed me almost total autonomy in the running of the unit, as well as being the only supervisor in all of LA District that was allowed to hand-pick my own agents for the unit. Everyone else got whoever was assigned – and there was a lot of grumbling and ‘politics’ from the other supervisors and section chiefs about that…and the fact that I and my unit didn’t fall under one of the traditional sections, but reported (operationally) directly to Mac.
Things got really tense with all the other supervisors and chiefs when I picked some of the agents directly from a couple of Academy classes, not from the pool of more seasoned agents, who all wanted to get into this new “special” unit doing all the cool stuff… I even had one of the other section chiefs complain that my ‘guys’ were irreverent and didn’t show him “proper respect”. My reply was that my ‘guys’ were hand-picked, and were almost all irreverent smart-@$$es, who would give respect to those who earned it. Don’t get me wrong, they were not blatantly disrespectful of authority, but they didn’t bow and kowtow to titles without substance. They were smart-@$$es because they were highly intelligent, independent thinkers, the kind of person I needed to handle the unconventional investigations and operations we dealt with – not plodding ‘yes’ men.
But the poo really hit the fan when I brought a new female agent into the team. SIU was comprised of a bunch of units traditionally ‘manned’ by big, tough macho guys working in dangerous situations, watching each other’s backs, and was no place for a girl…and I put her right into the Fugitive Task Force / High Risk Warrant squad! Sacrilege!
After some in-service training, she finally got to go out on one of our operations – a fugitive that was wanted in Mexico for killing multiple Federal Police Officers. We had surveillance on his house overnight and knew that he was there, so in the morning we set up a perimeter and had the entry team ready to go. We had to wait until 6am before we could serve the warrant.
She was on the outside perimeter team, as far away from the action as possible for her first operation, and like everyone else, as she got more experience, would work her way onto the inner perimeter team, then maybe onto the entry team.
About 15 minutes before we were to hit the door, she came over to ask me a question. I always believed in open questions from everyone, up to when we were scheduled to execute the operation, then all questions stopped and everyone did their job as assigned. She had about 5 minutes before that happened.
She said “Do we know he’s in there?” We all knew he was, because of the overnight surveillance, so I figured she was backing into her main question. “Yes” I replied. Then she asked “Do we have his phone number?” Again, since we’d done full background and gathered all available intelligence on him and the house, I said “Yes.” She then asked “and we know that his girlfriend and kids are in the house?” I was getting irritated and said “Yes. We don’t have much time, what’s your real question?”
“Why don’t we just call him, explain he’s surrounded, and ask him to come out so the kids and his girlfriend aren’t put in danger?” Being a bunch of big macho guys with shields, guns, etc…, we usually just took out the door and went in…it had never occurred to us to just ask…
I sent her back to her post, had everyone go on high alert and hold in place, and called him – telling him we’d allow him to come out, wouldn’t destroy his girlfriend’s door, put the kids in danger, etc…and he said “Ok, I’ll be right out”!
When he came out of the door, he had his hands empty and raised, we walked him to the side of the house and cuffed him out of sight of his kids, and a very dangerous man was in custody – on his way back to the authorities in Mexico…all because of a young pup with a different perspective teaching some old, salty dogs a new trick.