It is rare for some people to find work they’re passionate about and a career that allows them to give back. George Goodman is one of those people that managed to do both. Goodman decided to pursue a career in law enforcement after hearing his uncle’s stories about working as a local police detective and helping people in need. At the time, Goodman had no idea that his efforts would lead to him becoming ATF’s first African American Special Agent Canine Handler.
Taking a Bold Step
Goodman first entered law enforcement as a deputy sheriff with the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office in Ann Arbor, Michigan. During this time, he soaked up as much knowledge as possible by volunteering for stretch assignments and excelling in tactical training to enhance his law enforcement skills. Seeking greater challenges, he pursued a college degree that directly related to his interests in law enforcement. He enrolled in the Criminal Justice Program at Michigan State University (MSU) hoping the degree would help him achieve his professional goals.
Goodman continued to work a grueling police schedule while maintaining his college course load at MSU, and still managed to serve as a member of the campus ROTC fitness team. He often took time out from his schedule to participate in MSU’s career recruitment fairs on campus. At these fairs, Goodman was able to meet and network with ATF special agents to learn more about career opportunities in the bureau. Goodman graduated in 1986 with a degree in criminal justice and immediately applied for a job with ATF. One year later, Goodman joined ATF as a special agent and began his federal law enforcement career.
Making Strategic Strides
After completing basic training, Goodman began working in the Detroit Field Office. He realized soon that the life of a special agent is not an easy one. It requires years of specialized training and experience working on a variety of cases. Some people may jump at the opportunity to try new things.
Others prefer doing the same job by maintaining the status quo and not learning anything new. But not Goodman. He wanted to continue to climb the career ladder at ATF. Goodman began looking for opportunities to work with ATF’s accelerant and explosives detection canines (K-9s).
His hard work and determination paid off in 2003 when he became an ATF Special Agent Canine Handler (SACH). Although Goodman didn’t realize it at the time, he became the first African-American special agent canine handler in ATF’s history. After graduating from the ATF Canine Training Center, Goodman and his first K-9 partner Haiku often deployed to conduct canine sweeps at high profile, high-security events. Though based in Detroit, they worked closely with other law enforcement agencies to solve criminal cases across the country.
Goodman believes that continual learning helps people avoid complacency at work. Over the years, he participated in a variety of professional development courses to expand his skills. For example, Goodman completed ATF’s intensive, two-year Certified Explosives Specialist (CES) program in 2007. In his words, the CES program provided him with “exceptional explosives training that combines real world case studies and best practices methodologies to help with explosives investigations, bomb threat responses and special event sweeps.”
Cracking the Code to Make a Difference
Goodman applied his CES certification to work on multiple criminal investigations. In March 2018, his skills were put to the test when he worked on the Austin, Texas bombing case with his second K-9 partner, Bonny. The city was on edge as a serial bomber mailed package bombs to victims in the area, resulting in two deaths and multiple injuries.
Goodman and K-9 Bonny were part of a large detail of ATF canine handler teams deployed to assist the investigation. Using his training and experience, Goodman reviewed evidence, checked out investigative leads and conducted canine sweeps at multiple mail and parcel facilities to check for hidden bombs. The case ended when the identified suspect, Mark Anthony Conditt, confessed during a standoff with police and then set off a final bomb, killing himself and injuring an officer.
In addition to supporting criminal investigations across the nation, SACH Goodman and K-9 Bonny often participate in the annual canine interagency training program known as ATF National Odor Recognition Test (ATF NORT). The event features a variety of odor recognition environments in which teams compete to locate trace elements in a timely manner.
Dedication to the Mission
Pursuing excellence often requires sacrifice. Special agent canine handlers are on call 24/7, and often miss time with family and friends. Goodman rose to this challenge and never wavered in his dedication to the ATF mission. His job includes challenges that most people never experience. For example, ATF’s canine handlers often work at crime scenes soon after violent acts have taken place. Seeing and working with dead victims, injured bystanders and widespread destruction can take a toll on any agent.
In order to manage the stress and maintain his high performance level, Goodman knew he had to follow his own motto that a “healthy mind leads to a healthy body.” He began exercising regularly to keep his body and mind prepared for the rigors of the job. Despite the long work hours and hectic pace, he still enjoys giving back to his local community by serving as a mentor and certified instructor in the ATF Gang Resistance Educating and Training (G.R.E.A.T.) youth outreach program.
As Goodman continues to serve on multiple missions as a special agent canine handler and certified explosives specialist, his hard work has not gone unnoticed by his peers and leadership. Interagency partners often specifically request Goodman and K-9 Bonny to support VIP or national events based on their exemplary work in the field.
Requests like these were no surprise to George Krappmann, retired Assistant Special Agent in Charge (ASAC) of the Detroit Field Division, who served as Goodman’s manager. Krappmann recalls Goodman’s positive approach to the role of a special agent (SA) canine handler. According to Krappmann, “SA Goodman always upheld the highest standards and represented ATF in a positive way. Whether it was on a crime scene call out, a special event detail or training, his dedication to duty and work ethic is extraordinary.”
Without intending to break any barriers, Goodman made history as ATF’s first African-American special agent canine handler. He recognizes that his success did not happen overnight; it took years of focus and commitment to achieve his dreams. Goodman’s remarkable dedication to service, professionalism and continual learning throughout his career serve as an example for the law enforcement community today.