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Milwaukee Magazine's inside look at Milwaukee's FBI Bureau

The Milwaukee FBI moved from their downtown headquarters to this lakeside structure in St. Francis in 2016.
Illustration by Anna Sorokina for Milwaukee Magazine; Photo Courtesy of the FBI.
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The Milwaukee FBI moved from their downtown headquarters to this lakeside structure in St. Francis in 2016.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, or FBI, was founded in 1908. While there's not an exact record of when the FBI first opened a Milwaukee office, it was up and running by November of 1917. However, it's footprint here hasn't always been consistent since then.

More recently, the local FBI moved from their downtown headquarters to a lakeside structure in St. Francis in 2016. The FBI has a wide range of cases they oversee — from terrorism, counter intelligence, public corruption and civil rights violations, to health care fraud, and more.

To learn more about what actually goes on at the local headquarters and some historical insight, freelance reporter Steven Potter spoke with several local FBI agents and even went through the FBI’s Citizens Academy. It was all for his article called The Bureau in this month’s issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

As Potter describes, “The FBI outgrew their downtown office in 2016 to move into this huge structure right on the lake where it used to be Stark Investments. So, it used to be this big office firm, and it’s just a huge space with about 80,000 square feet.” There’s around 200 agents and other law enforcement officials who work out of this building today. When the Bureau moved into the lakeside building, they made adjustments to the structure, like putting thicker glass in the windows and fortifying the facility with steel beams to protect against bomb attacks.

"It's just how much crime has changed over time and how the FBI and the agency has reacted to that... but they're also proactive — they want to not only take down the imminent threat but they want to cut the roots of it too."

So, what does the FBI actually investigate? Potter explains that today it’s largely terrorism, counterintelligence, growing cybercrime, public corruption, and civil rights violations, as well as organized crime. He notes this can be everything from “old school mafia stuff” to more current crimes, including “healthcare fraud and that kind of thing, also white collar crime and certainly violent crime.” In addition, the FBI is working heavily in the field of public corruption to ensure that civic and public leaders utilize taxpayer funds appropriately. “They definitely want to hear from people when those instances happen, and it’s something that they are actively looking for because it really shakes the public trust,” Potter adds.

Another aspect of Potter’s article dispels the images of FBI operations that are frequently depicted in television dramas.

"One interesting part that I learned is that the FBI has to be invited in a lot of cases by the local law enforcement. They have to reach out to the FBI and say, ‘Hey, we would like your help on this.’ They can’t, just like we see on TV, come in and take over the scene - that’s just not how it works," he explains.

Potter admits that there was a fair amount he wasn't given much information to report on, but he did have a unique opportunity to see the inner workings of the Bureau for himself.

"I reached out to them, and I said, 'Hey, we want to look at maybe possibly an article on what you all do.' And they invited me into something called the Citizens Academy, which is where they bring in citizens to the FBI headquarters for about seven weeks, and they show us the view behind the curtain," says Potter.

The program included classes to learn about the differences between white-collar crime, violent crime, and cybercrime and how they tackle these different aspects to align with the agency's long-term goals.

"With a lot of law enforcement, their work is reactive. And the FBI is the same there, but they're also proactive — they want to not only take down the imminent threat, but they want to cut the roots of it too," notes Potter.

To find more behind-the-scenes facts and to learn about the national significance of past cases and leaders, you can find "The Bureau" in February's issue of Milwaukee Magazine.


Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Rob is All Things Considered Host and Digital Producer.
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