St. Joseph FBI Special Agent Jeffrey Brown’s work in undercover narcotics for the Phoenix Police Department provided the scariest moment of his law enforcement career.
Brown, who has never shot anyone despite being shot at, approached a drug house and made a “cold knock” to buy cocaine.
He realized the flicker in the dim interior was faint light glancing off the .45-caliber handgun pointed at his head.
“It looked like a cannon” from his vantage point, Brown told Southwestern Michigan College’s academic speaker series March 1 in the theatre of the Dale A. Lyons Building on the Dowagiac campus.
During four years undercover, the “middle-class kid” shed social mannerisms to “go to the street and pretend to be a crack head, a heroin junkie, a guy looking for guns or to get a prostitute. It was challenging,” Brown said. “In criminal justice we see death, destruction, domestic violence, drugs and the bad side of society nobody else wants to deal with. You need a good support system.”
Brown, who taught homeland security for SMC’s criminal justice program, recently returned from 2 ½ weeks in Oregon as a temporary-duty investigator of the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by anti-government activists that began Jan. 2.
Normally, the former Berrien County deputy sheriff is one of three agents assigned to a resident agency (RA) covering Cass, Berrien and Van Buren counties.
His first FBI station was St. Louis for five years. As a supervisor in the Washington Counterterrorism Division, Brown focused on Iran, Hezbollah and Syria in 9/11’s aftermath.
He completed two Iraq duty tours attached to Joint Special Operations (JSOP).
After tours in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, where he interviewed detainees, a promotion brought Brown to Detroit for four years.
“I had climbed the career ladder and decided to come home” when a St. Joseph position opened in December 2013.
The FBI maintains 56 field offices nationwide and 400 RAs, or satellite offices.
“Out here, we’re jacks of all trades who handle whatever comes through the door. We have roughly 25,000 FBI employees,” Brown said, “Eleven thousand special agents. NYPD has 35,000 sworn officers, which gives you an idea of how small we are as an organization. Our main priority since 9/11 is counterterrorism. We also fight drugs, gangs, white-collar crime and public corruption. We turn over every rock. When we get a tip, we follow up hot and hard to make sure there’s not a plot afoot.”
Since it is an ongoing legal dispute, Brown could not comment on the California case where federal agents seek access to a locked iPhone one of the San Bernardino shooters used.
“To get in the FBI as a special agent, you need a four-year degree, three years of professional experience and keep a clean record absent of felonies or drug use. You have to pass a polygraph, a physical agility test and a full medical background,” Brown said.
Within the Bureau, Brown said, “We have special agents and professional support, such as intelligence analysts who are more behind the scenes doing computer workups. Agents can specialize in a host of things — evidence response teams processing crime scenes, HRT (hostage rescue teams) — “a SWAT team that responds worldwide from Quantico”), academy instructors and BAU (behavioral analysis unit) profilers.”
“The squad I supervised had a nuclear scientist who decided he wanted to be a special agent,” Brown said. “I had a former high school teacher and a marketing sales guy. The Bureau comes from a whole host of varied backgrounds.”
Success demands soft skills such as effective communication.
“You’ve got to be able to talk to people,” Brown said. “I worked for the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department Marine Division in college. Off days I rode with cops for experience, to meet people and to see the job through their eyes. Networking is big. We hate to say it because you need to know stuff, but who you know is important, too.”
Brown “epitomizes everything we want for our CJ students,” Dean of Arts and Sciences Dr. Scott Topping said. “His background is filled equally with academic successes and professional achievements. He has a bachelor’s degree (in social science) from Concordia (University in Wisconsin, where he played four years of college football), a master’s degree in educational leadership from Northern Arizona University and an MBA from Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. For the last 15 years, he has been an FBI special agent, including a stint as unit chief for the Counterterrorism Division.”