GLYNCO, Ga. — As Texas cult leader David Koresh waits for word from God, instructors and students at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center here await details of what happened Sunday at the cult’s heavily fortified compound near Waco.
The four Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents who died as they stormed the fortress were all graduates of the center north of Bunswick.
The tragedy could prompt changes in how federal agents are trained, Robert Whitney, director of the bureau’s National Academy on the center’s sprawling campus, said Thursday.
“After the smoke has cleared, those people on the scene will look at it very closely,” Whitney said. “I feel confident that ATF management will let us know if any corrections are required.”
Whitney said ATF agents have served thousands of search warrants the past decade without loss of life.
“I think we should remember that,” he said. “Before this, our last agent killed was in 1983.”
Meanwhile, he said he and his 31-member staff are carrying on as usual, conducting an average of 10 new agent training (NAT) sessions a year for about 700 students. Whitney said the agency spends about $15,000 to send each of its agents through an 8 ½ week NAT course.
Prior to enrolling in NAT, ATF agents are required to complete eight weeks of basic training at the center.
One class of 24 graduated Wednesday, another class arrived Thursday, said Rudy Garcia, who heads ATF’s NAT program.
“I’m sure the tragedy will have a major impact on their training,” he said. “Generally, I think anything happening like this would tend to make them more attentive.”
Garcia said he makes it policy to “make their mistakes” in the center’s secure environment instead of on the street, where errors can cost lives.
Established in 1970 near Washington, D.C., to cut costs and standardize training for most federal law enforcement agents, the center relocated to the site of the former Naval Air Station Glynco in 1975.
Old Navy barracks have been remodeled into dormitories and offices.
Operated by the Treasury Department, the center is probably the largest facility of its kind in the world, staff members say.
Other than the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration, whose agents re trained at Quantico, Va., all federal law enforcement agencies send personnel who will make arrests and carry weapons here for basic and advanced courses.
Spokesman Roger Busy said the center’s annual budget is more than $40 million. In 1992, almost 27,000 students graduated from the facility.
Core curriculum includes courses in forensic science, firearms training, driver’s education, narcotics identification, fingerprinting, and undercover tactics.
Classroom instruction is often augmented by practical exercises involving professional actors who portray victims, white-collar criminals, drug smugglers and terrorists.
All ATF agents are required to have a college degree, he said.
Agents with more than five years’ on-the-job experience often return to the National Academy for specialized instruction, said Clayton Clark, the supervisor of ATF’s training support staff. Some ATF agents return to be trained in undercover work.