It’s been 24 years since Steven Martínez joined the ranks of the FBI. Since then, his career has been exceptional, gaining recognition as he leaves his mark on each task that he is entrusted with.
Martínez is, proudly, one of the highest-ranking Latinos in the FBI and head of the Los Angeles wing of the organization, one of the world’s largest metropolises, home to people from over 140 countries where it is estimated that over 220 languages are spoken. Along with New York and Washington, DC, it is one of the federal agency’s three mega-offices.
With a passion for his work, along with enthusiasm and integrity, Martinez faces new challenges every day, among which are the looming threat of another terrorist attack, the FBI’s top priority.
“The biggest challenge is to prevent another terrorist attack, and here it is one of our biggest concerns – he explains – not only do we know that this is an entertainment capital, but that there also lives another part of society that doesn’t like others, we’ve detected bombs intended for Los Angeles coming through the airport (LAX) and the border.”
“The FBI Los Angeles is one of the three mega-offices, along with DC and New York, and considered one of the largest in the nation, serving about 20 million people. Between agents and staff support there are about 1,400 people in my office. There are 76 field offices and we also have agents in different cities in embassies around the world.”
After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and the enactment of the USA Patriot Act, which increases the scope of FBI investigative powers, as well as other federal agencies, distrust and fear within the community have increased.
Hence, Martínez acknowledges the importance of working closely with community leaders, opening new channels of communication.
“It’s about depending on the community in general during our investigations. We receive phone calls 24 hours a day and anonymous reports via the Internet. We are always very close to the people, especially minorities,” he explains.
Although born in New Mexico, where much of his family lives, Steven and his parents settled in California. He remembers, “My dad was in charge of the Bracero program. He looked out for the interests of the laborers who came from Mexico.”
“I grew up near a town called Martinez (the name is purely coincidental) surrounded by countryside and nature. Ever since I was little I had the feeling that I wanted to serve the people. I knew I had to think about my future, and although I was a child, I watched films and examined photographs of the FBI. My interest in school was always helping others, which is why the FBI was perfect for me.”
Martínez completed his doctorate in political science from the University of Berkeley, California, and requested admission to the federal agency. He recalls, “Unfortunately, I was told I needed work experience, so I kept it in the back of my mind, worked in the private sector a while and then tried again.”
Martínez joined the ranks of the FBI in 1987 and worked in several areas, but he specialized in international drug investigations in El Paso, Texas. Eight years later he was promoted to the rank of Supervisor (SSA) in the Criminal Investigation Division of the FBI in Washington.
In 1997 he was assigned as Assistant Special Agent in Charge (ASAC) to the Division of Phoenix, Arizona, where he headed the drug squad and Violent Crime.
In 2001 he was promoted to ASAC position in the area of organized crime and drugs, and cyber crimes in the Division of Los Angeles.
Hence it was not strange that in February 2003 he was assigned to travel to Qatar and Iraq, at the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, becoming the first FBI agent in the Command Center (CENTCOM) in Doha, Qatar, and Baghdad, Iraq. The Latino was in charge of all FBI personnel in the region and control tasks Counterterrorism and Counterintelligence at the initial stage of the war.
He returned to Washington, DC, in 2004, and in 2006 was appointed Special Agent in Charge of the Division of Las Vegas, Nevada. Since November 2009 he has been the Director of the Office of Los Angeles.
Among the many awards he has received, recently he was awarded the Presidential Rank Award from the U.S. government for his service to this country.
Although his first interest in working within the FBI came from movies, Martinez understands the difference between reality and fiction: “The impression people have is what they see in movies and TV, but I want people know we are human, we have families. The only thing is that we are very selective with whom we deal with. I want to emphasize the importance of eliminating the myth that we do not work well with other agencies, in my 24 years as an agent has not been a time when we did not have to cooperate with other agencies.”
Being Latino has helped him understand that there are other cultures and that respect is the principle of a professional relationship with the community. Living in a country like the U.S., learning about and earning the respect of communities such as immigrants is one of his challenges.
“Many immigrant communities do not have a good relationship with the authorities, possibly because they come from countries where there is no such relationship or may not have the example of an acquaintance or relative who has been in government agencies, hence they are also sometimes victims of crime and don’t report out of fear or because they think nobody can help,” he explains.
“I always think I must be a good role model, but sometimes I forget. Sometimes I go to the White House or some meetings and I realize I’m the only Latino. That makes me think and realize how far we’ve come, but we still need Latinos to fill more positions in agencies like the FBI and other parts of government,” he admits.
“What the FBI is looking for is good and intelligent people, and they come in all colors.”
Although the economic adjustments taken by the government have led to freeze new hiring of staff in some sectors and agencies like the FBI, Martinez invites young Latinos to continue to prepare and seek college degrees, “because there are always opportunities for best qualified people.”
“There are many opportunities in government and in particular, with the FBI, and we are always interested in the best candidates. I think we have to work harder to identify highly qualified Latinos because we need the best. And I know we can find them within the Latino community,” he says.
[Photo By Expediente Rojo]