Growing up in a rough neighborhood outside Tampa, Florida, surrounded by drugs and crime did influence Tai’s path towards law enforcement. While in her neighborhood one day, she saw U.S. Marshals deputies serving a warrant. She was amazed to find that one was a Black female, the first she had ever seen wearing a badge. Tai approached her and at the end of the day got the deputy’s business card to keep in contact. That moment set her future course.
Tai earned a scholarship to Bethune-Cookman University, a historically Black university in Daytona Beach, where she studied criminal justice, with the aim of becoming a police officer. Today, at 32, she is an FBI agent in Puerto Rico who is believed to be the first Black woman to be selected to train for any of the bureau’s SWAT teams.
She has only been identified as Tai and will be undergoing New Operator Training School (NOTS), a 10-week course that prepares selectees for SWAT field operations, according to the FBI in a news release.
Tai will join the San Juan Division’s SWAT team as a probationary member if she passes NOTS. Within six to 18 months, she will undergo more training to become officially certified, the FBI said. Tai is at the moment determined to pass NOTS, which makes agents more proficient at firearms, body movement, and critical thinking in stressful situations, the FBI said in the release.
“I’m one of those people where I have a task at hand and I just focus on that task,” she said in the release. “I don’t really think about people looking at me.”
“Hopefully somebody will see that I was able to do it,” Tai added. “I’m not the biggest person. I’m not as strong as some of these guys. But as long as you have perseverance — because it does get really tough — you push through it and keep going.”
San Juan SWAT Senior Team Leader Mike Dubravetz said he “sees a lot of promise in Tai”.
“There are no guarantees for success, but she’s been willing to tackle this,” Dubravetz said in the release. “I’m impressed with her performance. She wouldn’t have made it through the selection process if she didn’t demonstrate that she has what it takes to be successful.”
SWAT is an acronym for Special Weapons and Tactics. There is a SWAT team at each of the FBI’s 56 field offices. Tai, a soldier in the U.S. Army Reserve, joined the FBI four years ago and has spent her career in Puerto Rico working corruption cases involving non-elected officials, according to the bureau. Before the FBI, she was a deputy for five years in the Orange County Sheriff’s Office in Orlando, Florida.
Tai said she was inspired to join the FBI after seeing the bureau’s response to a mass shooting in 2016 at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, a popular LGBTQ+ venue. Forty-nine people were killed. “The amount of assets and the professional attitude of agents,” she said. “They were organized, and they got stuff done.”
One of Tai’s fellow Army Reserve officers told her she would be a good FBI agent. She applied, went through new agent training, and was assigned to the San Juan Field Office in 2017, the FBI said.
Although Tai began NOTS this May, she was deployed to Oklahoma City for a temporary duty assignment. She will return to NOTS later this year with a new cohort of selectees to complete her training.
“I’m definitely thankful for all the Black women before me in the FBI,” Tai said. “Because if it didn’t start with that one, who knows how many there would be today, if any. I’m definitely grateful for all of them before me.”