The Historian's Spotlight - James Fitzgerald
BY PAT DAVIS
James Fitzgerald was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and grew up in the mostly Irish and German working-class neighborhood of Olney, as part of the Baby Boomer generation. His father, Wally, worked for Philadelphia Gas Works, while his mother, Alma, was a stay-at-home mom. Jim recalls that there were so many other kids around all of the time, that it was almost too crowded with boys and girls his own age. For grade school and then onto High School, he attended two of the largest Catholic Schools in the country, and says that he would not trade his childhood with anyone.
After graduating High School, Jim attended Penn State University where he received a B.S. in Law Enforcement and Corrections.
When asked if he had any relatives in Law Enforcement or what prompted him to pursue a career in Law Enforcement, Jim indicates that he had an uncle who served as a Philadelphia police officer who worked his way up the ranks, and retired as a captain. He even reports that this uncle helped get him out of some “very minor trouble” when he was sixteen. He also credits a teenage friend’s older brother, also a Philadelphia police officer, as influencing him to want to “wear the uniform”. After working 3-11 shifts, the officers would go back to his friend’s house where they would drink a few beers, and tell stories of their most recent shifts. Jim found their stories compelling, and recalls being about eighteen years old hanging out with officers no more than twenty-one, and now contemplates, “we were all just kids when you think of it.”
Feeling the call to serve, Jim started his Law Enforcement career when he was hired by the Bensalem, PA Police Department in 1976. During his eleven year tenure with Bensalem Police, he held the positions of Patrol Officer, Plainclothes Detective, Detective Sergeant, Patrol Sergeant and Administrative Sergeant. During this time period Jim enrolled at Villanova University, pursuing a Master of Science in Human Organizational Science. In the fall of 1986 he was selected to attend National Academy Session 147, which had only 125 members in attendance due to Federal budgetary issues. Jim advises that his favorite courses at the Academy were Computers, Police Management and Media Relations. He also enrolled in two graduate level classes whose credits he was able to transfer to Villanova and his degree which he completed in 1987.
At the time of his attendance at the Academy, Jim had been married for ten years. He and his wife had two of their now three sons, Sean and Dan (Ryan didn’t come along until 1994), which made being away for three months difficult, but living in the Philadelphia area, he was able to come home on most weekends. While being away was difficult, Jim states, “If you have to be away from home, the FBI Academy is the place to be.” Jim’s attendance at the Academy was the first time in his life that provided extended exposure to people who were not born in the Philadelphia area. Recognizing the importance of sharing various law enforcement and agency tales over the weeks, Jim also valued learning about the people, themselves, from different parts of the United States and other countries and credits this eye opening experience as great preparation for his future.
Jim enjoyed meeting individuals from other agencies around the country and from around the world who shared very similar workplace issues and he found it helpful in addressing issues in his own agency. Jim’s advice to those selected to attend the academy is simple: “go there knowing that it’s a once-in-a-lifetime/profession experience. Take every class and every session-mate interaction as a learning tool to be applied to not only your job when you get back home, but to your everyday life too. And then stay involved with the NAA.”
Jim’s favorite memory of his time at the Academy is the graduation ceremony, not because it meant that his time in Quantico had concluded, but rather because of the wonderful and lavish and circumstances of the ceremony.
In 1987 Jim left Bensalem Police Department to become an Agent with the FBI, where he spent the next twenty years working as a Special Agent. While with the Bureau, Jim continued his higher education, earning a Master of Science in Linguistics from Georgetown University in 2005.
During his time with the Bureau, Jim spent time in New York City, and at the FBI Academy as a Criminal Profiler and Forensic Linguist. During his career, Jim was fortunate to have been assigned to work some of the biggest criminal cases of the last twenty-five years.
In 2007 Jim retired from active law enforcement to pursue a writing career. In 2014 his first book, “A Journey to the Center of the Mind, Book I: The Coming-of-Age Years, was published. He has recently completed his second book which is titled “A Journey to the Center of the Mind, Book II: The Police Officer Years,” and it is schedule for publication in January 2017. Book III, The FBI Years, covers his twenty years as an FBI Agent in NYC as a Criminal Profiler and a Forensic Linguist, and is scheduled for release in the Fall of 2017.
Jim’s soon to be published Book II, covers his eleven years as a Bensalem Police Officer, Detective and Sergeant. It spans the years 1976 to 1987. In it he recounts anecdotes relating to his police career, including investigations, arrests, trials, gunplay, car chases, politics, etc. One of the Jim’s favorite sections of this book is the three full chapters that he devotes to his time at the NA in the Fall of ’86. A lot happened during Jim’s time there, including the infamous DEA Police Drug School members not dressing appropriately one evening in the Cafeteria and all being “released” by the new Assistant Director one week prior to their class graduation. The book contains many other stories relating to the NA experience, delivered in a conversational style, to which we can all likely relate.
Recently, Jim was one of seven experts on CBS TV’s “The Case of Jon Benet Ramsey,” which aired in September, 2016. Also, actor Sam Worthington will be portraying the character of Jim “Fitz” Fitzgerald in the upcoming Discovery Channel 8-part mini-series “Manifesto” which is about his contributions to the solving of the Unabomber case.
In addition to his writing, Jim works as a consultant, working actual criminal and civil cases, as well as consulting with Hollywood, in an effort to help make realistic TV shows about law enforcement. He adds that, “each hat I’m presently wearing is equally important to me.”
Jim continues to reside in the Philadelphia area and is a member of the Eastern Pennsylvania Chapter of the FBINAA. More information about “Fitz” and his very exciting career can be found at: www.jamesrfitzgerald.com
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