Luke Franey has worked his way up the ladder at ATF, serving as a field agent in Oklahoma City, supervising agents in Corpus Christi and Denver, heading the Critical Incident Management Branch in ATF headquarters, and protecting the bureau’s director in Washington, D.C.
His impressive career in ATF, a federal agency charged primarily with enforcing the federal laws governing firearms and explosives throughout the country, began right here at Sam Houston State University.
"If someone is interested in pursing a career in criminal justice, I tell them that the Criminal Justice Center at SHSU is a great choice," said Franey, Assistant Special Agent in Charge at the Denver Field Division. "The criminal justice program is phenomenal. I meet federal agents in Secret Service, the DEA and FBI all the time. I am constantly running into Sam Houston grads."
Franey graduated from SHSU in 1986 with a Bachelor of Science in Law Enforcement and Police Science. He went through the Reserve Academy for the Port Aransas Police Department during his internship at the College and worked a summer, holidays and weekends for the department. He began his career in the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services, and joined ATF after 14 months.
After 22 years with the agency, Franey said he has loved his career and would do it all over again.
"Our whole focus is on violent crime," said Franey."We focus on the worst of the worst of the criminal element. We are pretty lean and we have a specific and narrow focus."
The ATF, part of the U.S. Department of Justice, only has about 5,500 employees, with about half serving as agents. It covers a broad area, including the illegal use and trafficking of weapons, the illegal use and storage of explosives, acts of arson and bombings, acts of terrorism, and the illegal diversion of alcohol or tobacco products.
During his career, Franey has served on tactical units and on undercover operations. He spent time at the Waco Siege at the Branch Davidian complex in Texas, and he was in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City when it was bombed by Timothy McVeigh in 1995.
Franey worked late the night before and was sitting at his desk talking by phone to his partner to complete arrest warrants when the bomb went off. He heard the explosion and the women scream in the Drug Enforcement Administration office down the hall. Then he felt the force of the detonation and was blown back from the desk. When he awoke, he was covered in roofing material and other items from the office.
"I had been stuck in a corner," said Franey. "If I took three to four steps, I could see the front of the building was open and had been blown off. I was looking down nine stories.”
Franey said he learned two valuable lessons that day – to always be prepared and not to let one traumatic incident define him.
"Some guys relive that moment," Franey said. "I will not let that moment define me. I can’t live April 19, 1995 for the rest of my life. I will go on with my career, my family and my life."
After serving as a field agent in Oklahoma City for 15 years, Franey was promoted to a supervisory position in Corpus Christi, Texas for three years. Then he got the call to go to Washington, D.C.
As a field agent, Franey served on the Dallas Regional Special Response Team, specialized units called in for high risk search and arrest warrants, undercover operations, and witness protection within the agency. In Washington, he headed the Critical Incident Management Branch, which oversees the five regional tactical teams located in Washington, Detroit, Miami, Dallas and Los Angeles and dealt with various tactical issues, such as weapons, tactical operators, negotiations, critical incident management and tactical medical teams.
Franey also served as the Special Agent in Charge of the Office of Executive Protection, where he was charged with protecting the Director of ATF and other Bureau executives. As part of that detail, he traveled to Iraq, Europe, Canada and Mexico.
"It was a great experience," said Franey. "Washington truly is an international city…It takes a lot of people to make a change, and Washington moves at a snail’s pace. But one person can make a difference, whether it is in your division, your branch, selecting a new weapon or piece of equipment or changing policy."
In 2009, Franey became the Assistant Special Agent in Charge, second in command in Denver, where he oversees administration and operations for a staff of 130 employees covering four states, including Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and Montana. The office deals with a variety of issues, which often includes outlaw motorcycle gangs, violent gangs like the Crips and the Bloods, militia groups, arsonists, and terrorists.
“I had a lot of opportunity to do a lot of things," Franey said. "You learn something from everything you do. One thing I enjoyed the most is the ability to work with state and local agencies."
Franey urged criminal justice students to take advantage of internships offered at SHSU.
"The job market is so competitive, you need to have something to put on your resume that qualifies as law enforcement experience," Franey said.