Secret Service agent tells his story

Kyle Cortez, Managing Editor

John Roberts, a Secret Service agent, spoke to Patricia Smith’s Introduction to Criminal Justice class about his experiences as a Secret Service agent and what it takes to become a Secret Service agent.

Roberts’s office is located in Fresno and he is the resident agent in charge, which means he’s the man responsible for the Fresno district. The Fresno district encompasses eight counties.

He explained why the Secret Service was initially created in 1865 for the purpose of investigating counterfeit currency. About one-third of the currency in circulation at the end of the Civil War was counterfeit. He also explained the dual mission of the Secret Service: investigating financial crimes, and provide protection for our leaders.

Roberts said he became interested in the Secret Service in the fifth grade. He found a copy of The Bakersfield Californian in his Bay Area home that was dated Nov. 22, 1963 with a story about John F. Kennedy being murdered. There was a picture of a Secret Service agent trying to protect Mr. and Mrs. Kennedy, and he became intrigued from that point on. Roberts has strong ties to Bakersfield as his mother was born and raised in the city.

“I started working for my law enforcement career sitting in a room like you are right now; at a community college in the San Francisco Bay Area called Diablo Valley College taking criminal justice classes. It was my first step and it can be yours too if this is something you’re interested in doing,” said Roberts.

Roberts joined the Marines out of high school and was in the service for almost 12 years before he got a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a master’s degree in public administration.

He said that communication is a big piece of any job in the law enforcement field. He also said that an education and solid work experience is very helpful for trying to get a job in the law enforcement field.

Roberts said that halfway into his Marine Corps time he transitioned from a regular military policeman to a criminal investigator. He became a detective in the Marine Corps and started learning how to investigate felony-level crimes of a wide variety.

Roberts said that he’s been working in law enforcement for around 25 years. He became a Secret Service agent back in the 2000s and he started in a Washington D.C. field office.

He worked for the Vice Presidential Protective Division for four years. He has been responsible for security for Dick Cheney and Joe Biden. He said one of the coolest things that he was able to do on the VP detail was that he was the limo driver for about two years for both Cheney and Biden.

“You have to have more than just a driver’s license to drive the limo for either the president or the vice president. You have to go through some vigorous training. We do this phenomenal maneuver called the J-turn and you take a 15,000-pound limousine, and it weighs that much because of all the armor, and you drive in reverse and you spin the wheel and you make it go in a complete 180-degree turn while you’re moving and never hit the brake and just keep going. One of the coolest things I’ve ever done,” said Roberts.

“One of the biggest challenges I had on the vice president’s detail was the vice president traveled overseas quite frequently and I got to travel all over the world, arranging security for the vice president. We have zero jurisdiction overseas. Everyone thinks we’re in charge no matter where we go, we’re not. So when we go overseas and we do what we call protective advance in another country, it’s a negotiation process. So we go at least two weeks ahead of time and work it out with the host country on exactly what we’d be allowed to do and not do. Where you’re going to go and how you’re going to do it. How many guns do we bring? Whereas here in the United States, I got absolute jurisdiction over protecting those people. What I say goes. So that became a real challenge,” said Roberts.

He then transferred from the VP detail to San Jose and worked there for about two years. He got promoted and moved up to their office in San Francisco and worked there for three years. He got promoted earlier this year to Fresno and he’s only been there for two months.

Roberts explained that education and work experience are two paths to go down if you want to get into law enforcement.

“The work experience doesn’t have to be in law enforcement, it doesn’t have to be in the military. Even if you work in the financial industry, as a teacher, or as an engineer or whatever you want to do.

“What we’re looking for is someone that has proven themselves capable of doing their responsibilities whatever they are. That they’re honest, they believe in integrity, they don’t lie, cheat, or steal and their bosses and coworkers have faith in them, that they show up to work on time. That’s what we’re looking for. Can you take on an event and fulfill it?

“The other part is you have to be a good citizen. You treat people with respect and stay out of trouble. We need folks that aren’t drug users, we need folks that don’t cheat or steal,” said Roberts.

Roberts also said to verify the information that you’ve told them, you’re going to have to take a polygraph test to make sure you aren’t lying. If you change one of your answers from your application to the polygraph test, then you’re gone.

“My advice in any application process is, be honest. Tell the truth. You want to get that job because of your character, not because you lied,” said Roberts.

Roberts made sure to mention that there are many sacrifices that come with this job and it’s not for everybody. But he said that the good days definitely outweigh the bad ones.

There is one exam that you have to take to become a Secret Service agent and it’s called the Special Agent Entrance Exam. It will test some of your math skills and it will test some of your reading comprehension skills.

“It’s not like the SATs, it’s not that hard. If you don’t study for it though, then you probably won’t do very well on it. It’s a pass/fail test. You have to get a 70 percent to pass the test,” said Roberts.