Inside look at virtual city built to train our protectors

FLETC campus across Georgia border produces 'best of the best'

By Vic Micolucci - I-TEAM reporter, anchor, Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects

GLYNN COUNTY, Ga. - You may not know it, but there's a place in Jacksonville's backyard that is producing some of the most elite members of local, state and federal law enforcement.

If you're a fan of television crime shows, you've likely heard the term "FLETC" or Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers. Men and women from across the country travel to the 1,600-acre compound in Glynn County, Georgia, to hone their skills to become the "best of the best" who carry a badge.

The training academy includes a mock town to allow for real-world scenarios like mass shootings and terrorist attacks -- a compound so big, it actually has its own ZIP Code. Many have wondered how officers and agents know what to do and when to do it, so News4Jax asked for access beyond the locked gates, and our request was granted.

Editor's Note: News4Jax is not showing faces of current students, only instructors, and we are not revealing training that would jeopardize the safety of law enforcement or citizens.

News4Jax goes inside FLETC

As soon as we arrived at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers in Southeast Georgia, we could see the facility provides a real-world experience and can handle thousands of members of law enforcement. 

"We train over 70,000 students here every year. We want to make sure they develop the skill set to be able to do their job," FLETC Deputy Director William Fallon said.

In fact, 91 federal law enforcement agencies learn to protect the homeland at FLETC.

"It really does create a situation where law enforcement officers have to think on their feet. They have to be truly first responders to a dynamic incident where they may or may not have communication," explained Jeni Groot-Begnaud, a counter-terrorism instructor.

WATCH: Officer shot scenario

Students from local, state and federal departments are trained and then tested on all aspects of their dangerous jobs, including driving.

"Two of the biggest liabilities that we have in law enforcement are use-of-force and driver training, when we talk about deaths," said driving instructor George Buck.

Students also spend a lot of time perfecting their aim not only on the range, but also on high-tech simulators.

"Both hands on the weapon to allow control. Take that support hand, bring it up across the chest," explained firearms instructor Rock Smith.

But it's so much more than shooting. Now more than ever, these future elite officers and agents are taught when to use force and when not to.

"We don't want them to under react and we don't want them to overreact," said Division of Physical Techniques Chief Kelly Dixon. 

"Everything we do is evaluated and assessed. And so they get the message loud and clear what proper conduct looks like," added FLETC Director Thomas J. Walters.

UNCUT: Interview with FLETC Director Thomas J. Walters

All the training must be as real as possible.

"You can take and read police reports and then make scenarios based on something else," said Active Response Chief Bruce Miller.

Because real-world training is so important, FLETC has full-scale models of just about any situation you could imagine. A complete city has been built with banks, motels, pawn shops and public transportation.

"We have a responsibility to provide realistic training," emphasized Assistant Director Michael Milner.

To do that, the facility includes neighborhoods with meth labs and bombs.

WATCH: FLETC EOD demonstrations

Inside FLETC, there is also unique training for a real threat in every community: active shooters. Federal agents and local law enforcement all train together, so if an active shooting happens, they know how to respond together to stop a threat.

"I need to make sure that I've got good people out there responding. So it's something that matters. This is definitely one of the most relevant jobs we teach at FLETC," said active response instructor Ross Begnaud.

Besides the action-packed scenarios, an emphasis on science is crucial too. FLETC trains crime scene investigators because even the tiniest piece of evidence can solve the biggest of crimes.

"They'll be searching for bloodstain patterns, ballistics, the bullet holes in there," forensics instructor Ted McDonald showed us.

WATCH: Plane hijacking scenario

The goal is to provide real-world training to make sure every man and woman who leaves FLETC is ready and able to keep you safe anywhere, anytime.

"When you see a student walk across that stage and graduate with a badge and a gun, you know they have been trained by the best in the business," Fallon said.

About Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers

History

Training for federal law enforcement officers and agents varied from agency to agency before 1970. That changed after studies revealed an urgent need for high-quality, cost-effective training by a team of professional instructors in modern facilities. In response, Congress established CFLETC as a bureau of the Department of the Treasury and began training operations in temporary facilities in Washington, D.C. 

The plan was to construct a permanent training center in the D.C. area, but because of three-year delay, Congress looked at existing facilities elsewhere. Eventually, the former Glynco Naval Air Station was selected -- which is FLETC's current location in Southeast Georgia -- and in 1975, FLETC headquarters was transferred and training began. Other domestic FLETC training sites are located in Artesia, New Mexico, Charleston, South Carolina, and Cheltenham, Maryland.

While FLETC did first fall under the Treasury Department, a year and a half after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, FLETC was formally transferred to the newly created Department of Homeland Security. 

Flagship basic training programs

  • Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP) for special agents
  • Uniformed Police Training Program (UPTP) for uniformed patrol officers
  • Land Management Police Training (LMPT) for land management agencies

Examples of advanced training programs 

  • Cyber Terrorism Training, such as Internet Forensics and Investigations; Financial Forensics, and International Banking and Money Laundering Training;
  • Physical Security; Land Transportation Anti-terrorism; Weapons of Mass Destruction; Seaport Security;
  • Active Shooter Threat Training Program and Tactical Medical for First Responders Training Program;
  • Law enforcement instructor training in a wide variety of specialized disciplines

Total FLETC students trained annually

Source: FLETC

Note: FY 2018 numbers projected as of March 1.

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