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Meet Carlton Peeples, FBI Special Agent in Charge of Birmingham’s Field Office

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Since January, Carlton Peeples has served as the special agent in charge at the Birmingham field office, where he oversees more than 200 employees across FBI agencies, in Florence, Gadsden, Huntsville and Tuscaloosa.
By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times

Carlton Peeples doesn’t remember hearing many good things about law enforcement when he was growing up. “The FBI was probably perceived by my parents and my grandparents more as an enemy than as a friend,” he recalled.

But he saw something different.

“It’s about helping people. It’s about giving back. I think you can ask anybody in law enforcement, you don’t do it to get rich…For the most part, I think [those in law enforcement] are about giving back to the community, helping people, wanting to be part of something positive,” he said.

Since January, Peeples has served as the special agent in charge at the Birmingham field office, where he oversees more than 200 employees across FBI agencies, in Florence, Gadsden, Huntsville and Tuscaloosa.

Nestled within a conference room of the FBI’s Birmingham office in downtown, Peeples acknowledged during an interview with the Birmingham Times that the perception his grandparents had of the FBI still lingers for some today.

“The history of law enforcement in minority communities is not great, and we’re still suffering for some of that today, as we speak, so have some things changed? Yes, but do we still have a long way to go to build that bridge between law enforcement and the community? Without a doubt,” Peeples said.

It’s critical that law enforcement leaders take responsibility for involving the community in decision making, he said.

” My goal is to engage all the stakeholders and build something that people have a stake in and want to be a part of,” Peeples said.

For example, it is necessary that officers and agents are trained for conflict resolution and to get used to being comfortable “when you’re in uncomfortable situations because not every scenario that you’re going to pull up in is going to be something that you have experience in, whether it’s with people or communities or engagements or conflict resolution.”

Meanwhile, while many in African American communities may be uneasy sharing information with law enforcement and that needs to change, he said.

“We know who the people are in our communities that are committing crimes. It’s no secret, but the community has to step forward and be willing to talk about those individuals and help us hold those individuals accountable, and I understand there’s some trepidation, there is some fear in doing so, but that’s the only way this is going to change,” the agent in charge said.

To change that mindset it is necessary that law enforcement ensures the safety of residents who speak up, he said. One way is to give violent offenders the longest possible sentences.

“I don’t care if it goes federal. I don’t care if it goes local or state. If you’re telling me you’ve got the biggest hammer that’s going to keep that individual in jail for the most time, that’s where I want it to go, even though we may have to put the most resources into it, and I’m hoping that’s what every law enforcement partner in this community feels as well,” he said.

Anyone can “sit back and complain” about what’s happening with crime and law enforcement, but only doing that will not improve communities, he said. “Either, we have to get involved, or we continue to sit on the sidelines and hope change will come, so I chose to get involved,” he said.

Community Engagement

The Birmingham FBI office conducts a number of different community engagement programs, including the FBI Citizens Academy and the newly restarted Multi-Cultural Engagement Council (MCEC).

The MCEC brings together representatives of a variety of communities and organizations to serve as an advisory board for the Birmingham FBI office.

“We’re going to meet on a quarterly basis to say, ‘What are the issues that are happening in your community, and how can FBI be value added in addressing it?’ It’s about giving back, ensuring the community knows that we’re there, that we are not a threat, that we don’t target,” he said.

Additionally, the Birmingham FBI continues to offer the Citizens Academy, where community, business and religious leaders can be nominated to get an inside look at the innerworkings of local FBI operations.

The 2023 fall session of the FBI Birmingham Citizens Academy will be held in Birmingham from Sept. 5- Oct. 24, 2023 every Tuesday night from 6 p.m.-9 p.m.

Against All Odds

Peeples has been with the FBI since 1998, when he joined as a special agent in the Washington, DC field office. Born and raised in Union, South Carolina with his older brother, Peeples also served in the U.S. Army for three years before enrolling at University of Louisville in Kentucky in 1992.

In 1996, he graduated with his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and law enforcement administration and college worked numerous jobs to support himself, including manufacturing cigarettes for Philip Morris International; at the health insurance company Humana and for shipping giant UPS. “It was a lot—full-time job, part-time job, going to school full-time,” he said.

His personal determination came from watching his mother, he said.

“She was a single mom who raised three kids, took care of her ailing mother, as well as a teenage niece and her infant child, all while working as an LPN (licensed practical nurse) and going to school in a nearby county to become an RN (registered nurse),” Peeples recalled.

“Although we didn’t get a lot of our wants, she took care of our needs. My desire to succeed was fueled by watching my mother do it against all odds,” he added.

He said he applied to work for the bureau in 1996, urged on by an Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity brother who also wanted work in law enforcement. “He applied for the Secret Service. I applied for the FBI. He got into the Secret Service. I got into the FBI, so that’s really how it started for me,” Peeples said.

While working as an agent in DC, Peeples worked counterintelligence, public corruption, civil rights, violent crime and gang investigations and served on the SWAT team.

In 2005, he was promoted to supervisory special agent and transferred to the Civil Rights Unit of the Criminal Investigative Division at FBI Headquarters in DC. He served as the Civil Rights Southeast program manager and hate crimes coordinator and was promoted to chief of the Civil Rights Unit in 2007, leading the FBI’s entire Civil Rights program.

From there he assumed a number of leadership positions including senior supervisory special agent in the Atlanta Field Office; assistant inspector in the Inspection Division at FBI Headquarters; assistant special agent in charge of the Jacksonville Field Office in Florida; and Inspection Division at FBI Headquarters.

Since learning that he was coming to Birmingham this year, Peeples said, he was excited because of the city’s place as a cradle of Civil Rights history “and a great opportunity to work in that arena and build relationships,” he said.

Additionally, the agent in charge said he wants residents to understand that Birmingham FBI employees are as involved in their communities as anyone else.

“We live here. We work here. We worship here. Our kids go to school, they play sports, just like yours, so we have just as much of a vested interest in Birmingham being a safe place to live, just as anybody else does,” Peeples said.