NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – About two dozen Hampton Roads citizens have spent the past eight weeks getting an inside look at the FBI.

The mission of the Citizens Academy is to foster a greater understanding of the role of federal law enforcement and what they do. This group also assists Norfolk’s field office if they need it, and some of the people WAVY spoke with say it’s changed their perspective on law enforcement.

“What you see on TV is so different as far as the FBI is concerned or the SWAT team than what this presents to us,” said City of Chesapeake Business Developer, Lloyd Jackson. “It’s a very eye opening opportunity.”

From serving dangerous search warrants to taking down major drug trafficking rings, our Norfolk FBI agents are busy every day taking hundreds of criminals off the streets each year.

For the past eight weeks, a local group of citizens got a look behind the curtain at what goes into investigating these cases.

FBI Special Agent in Charge Brian Dugan says they work to bring in people from the community who don’t know much about the FBI and give them a glimpse at what agents are facing each day. He says they also use this opportunity to strengthen relationships with the community and help agents understand the cultures and groups they represent.

“We have people that are from all walks of life from Hampton Roads and that’s what I like because those are the people we should be listening to,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Brian Dugan.

Citizens get to learn every aspect of the FBI’s Programs, from counter-terrorism to violent crime, view a SWAT team demonstration, learn more about the firearms they use, and even take part in a simulation to see how quickly they can make decisions.

“You have to take that second to understand where the hands are, what they’re holding, are they coming toward you,” said Kristi Rines.

Rines works for the city of Virginia Beach and says it’s been interesting to see how much work goes on in the background to build a case. She says it’s also been interesting to learn about the legal side of what agents are facing in their day-to-day work.

“You’re trying to protect the citizens, you’re trying to arrest the bad guy and at the same time having to abide by the constitution.”

Many citizens who sign up are local business owners, ministers, or even community leaders. One local pastor told us it really opened his eyes to what agents are seeing everyday here in Hampton Roads.

Jackson says he plans to recommend the academy to those who are on the border line of trusting law enforcement.

“This is very important to kind of healing that process,” said Jackson. “There are a lot of people that don’t trust the local police or state police. this gives you a different perspective.”

After graduating from the Citizens Academy, they can join the alumni association. The alumni association assists agents when assisting in local investigations like the Walmart Mass Shooting in Chesapeake.

They worked to bring agents food and coffee and provided support during the long hours worked.

“They showed up every morning with coffee and food so that the team that was going inside Walmart to process the crime scene, the alumni association was there,” said Dugan.

Jackson says he enjoyed the academy so much and plans to join the alumni group to stay involved.

“It’s something that I would probably be a part of for the rest of my life,” said Jackson.

The Citizens Academy meets every Wednesday night for several weeks. This group is set to graduate on Wednesday, May 17.

The FBI begins accepting applications for next year’s class beginning in November. Visit this website to stay updated on when the application process opens.