LAWRENCE, Kan. - The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms is working hard to recruit minorities. The bureau, under the Department of the Treasury, is on a mission to add more cultural diversification to its workforce, representatives say.
Rita Womack, a recruiter, said the bureau realizes employees have to understand many different cultural traditions to do their jobs properly. Direct eye contact with people from one culture who are being questioned may be perfectly normal and expected and in another it may mean a physical challenge is going to ensue, Womack said.
The huge differences between tribal traditions also has the bureau looking hard at recruiting as diverse a group from as many American Indian nations as it can to serve the public better, Womack explained.
She recently joined other agents at Haskell Indian Nations University to present three $500 scholarships to students from the National Native American Law Enforcement Association. Ten scholarships were awarded in all and the agents who made the presentations wanted to make sure Haskell understood how unusual it was to have three scholarships awarded at one college. They also made sure they didn't miss an opportunity to pitch the bureau as a possible career field for students when they graduate.
Mark James, special agent in charge awarded scholarships to two of the students, Toni Tsatoke, Kiowa, and Carlene Morris, Cherokee. The third scholarship recipient was out of town and agents didn't have the student's name.
Students competing for the scholarships wrote essays about how law enforcement could improve the quality of life in Indian country. Both Womack and James said the essays opened their eyes to special issues between Native Americans and law enforcement agencies which made them realize the real importance of recruiting Native American special agents and investigators.
Both of the award winners present are majoring in elementary education but that didn't stop the recruiters from asking them to seriously consider the bureau as an option after they graduate.
A minimum of a bachelor's degree is required, but the degree doesn't have to have an emphasis in law enforcement. An age requirement for special agents is similar to the military, but for those on the inspector's track there is no age limit.
"We regulate the alcohol, tobacco and explosive industries," Womack said. "We pride ourselves on having a diverse population of employees. So that is what I am ensuring that we do have."
What does the bureau expect Native Americans to bring to the job? "Diversity brings a wealth of information," Womack said. "Native Americans bring their cultural identity with them when they go out among other ethnic neighborhoods and forge an amicable relationship with law enforcement agencies."
She said the bureau often gets a "bad rap" because it deals with the "sins of society." That means employees have to be willing to uphold the law and yet not give up the beliefs they have while they are doing it.
"It is a very interesting career," Womack, a 16-year veteran said.
Morris said she respects the fact the bureau is trying to open the lines of communication between minorities and themselves and that was what prompted her to enter the scholarship competition.
"If I can help in any way, whether it is just how I feel or any way, I will do it," Morris said. "It helps me learn about them and teaches them about my culture."
Tsatoke said, "I can't believe it! I guess my interest was that law enforcement is such a vital part of the conditions that Indian people face today."
Although both young women are committed to fulfill their dreams of becoming teachers, they said they also realized that changing laws and conditions within Indian country make a good relationship with law enforcement agencies and a diverse work force within those law enforcement agencies absolutely necessary.
"Maybe there could be more respect for law enforcement if those in Indian country see it as a possible career opportunity," Toni Tsatoke said.
For more information on employment opportunities with the Department of the Treasury or the ATF, contact the nearest field office which can be found in the white pages under U.S. Government listings.