A local FBI official detailed his office's efforts to Fort Smith's private sector Friday morning.
Brenan Despain, supervisory senior resident agent of the FBI's Fort Smith and Fayetteville offices, spoke at the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce's First Friday Breakfast. Despain outlined local initiatives that he and other FBI officials are taking in reference to national issues in his address.
“We don’t take it lightly that we’re here. We are servants of the public," Despain said. "The money that we get comes from you, and we try to do a good job with everything you’ve entrusted us with.”
Arguably, the most current national issue that Despain touched on in his address is school threats. Despain said the FBI's Fort Smith and Fayetteville offices have most recently dealt with a spike in school threats in the wake of the mass shooting Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
“I spent that weekend — Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday — just doing school threats," Despain said. "Unfortunately, we had to arrest several kids who were making silly comments."
Despain said the FBI offers active-shooter training for law enforcement in reference to school threats. He said officers need to be trained on how to approach such situations so as to not escalate the threat.
Specifically, Despain said officers need to approach schools tentatively when first responding to a threat.
"Police would rush to that emergency, and sometimes that’s a bad thing, because there are too many people that show up," he said.
Outside of law enforcement, Despain encourages anyone to report a threat if he or she thinks that something is wrong.
"You can’t already see someone’s heart, but if someone says someone has an issue and tells me about it, I will address it," Despain said. "I’m never too busy.”
Another national issue that Despain said personnel with the Fort Smith office are addressing is that of opioids. He said the issue is a widespread one, and that the FBI is trying to combat it before prescription opioid abusers move on to heavier substances.
Despain illustrated his point by asking anyone in the audience to who knows someone who has used prescription drugs without a prescription to raise his or her hand. Most of the people in the audience raised their hands.
“(Children are) going into the medicine cabinet and they take those pills, and then they get hooked on heroin, because it’s cheaper than pills," Despain said.
Despain said the FBI has tried to prevent young people from abusing prescription opioids by showing them their "Chasing The Dragon" film, which was created to inform the public about drug abuse.
Despain also spoke about how officials with the FBI are trying to combat crimes against children. He said the FBI specifically investigates "traveler cases," which include sex trafficking, prostitution and online enticement.
Crimes against children such as these are prominent in the Fort Smith area, Despain said. He said that the office leads the central division, which is one of four divisions in the United States, in arrests and operations related to such crimes.
Despain said the FBI has acquired task force officers, or specially-trained officials from local law enforcement agencies, to help combat the problem.
“It doesn’t get as much attention as terrorism, but I’m dedicated to making a difference for our kids here in the community so that they don’t have to carry that burden of having to be trafficked or having to be abused and molested for the rest of their lives,” he said.
Despain concluded his presentation by asking the breakfast attendees to look for ways to address such issues as well. He said that officials in the FBI do what they can, but that citizens have to take measures to prevent the issues.
“Law enforcement is reactive," Despain said. "The importance is the community. The community has to make a difference.”