FLORENCE — Dan Girsch remembers his first years with the FBI, the almost simplicity of the crimes compared to how they have changed over the years.
“We worked bank robberies, looked for fugitives, interstate shipments and interstate stolen property — that was big business for us then,” Girsch said. “But times changed and so did crimes. You name a crime and it has changed.
“Now, we’re working cyber crimes, computer crimes, scams, child porn and then mix in domestic terrorism and human trafficking. It’s totally different.”
Girsch spent 26 years with the bureau, all 26 in the Florence FBI office, which is part of the Birmingham district.
Before his retirement last month, Girsch was the longest serving agent the bureau had in the Shoals.
“I was one of the few people lucky enough to stay in one place,” said Girsch.
To show how much things changed with the bureau during the tenure, Girsch said when he started there was no such thing as a cellphone.
“Back then, you were lucky to have a beeper or pager. Now look at all the technology, the cellphones, smartphone and computers,” he said. “We didn’t know what a computer crime was when I started. Then, the crimes were a door-to-door salesman, or a roofer getting into someone’s house and stealing their money or exploiting them.
“Now, it’s all about the Internet, from child porn to scams to domestic terrorism to human trafficking. We have squads doing nothing but working cyber crimes, human trafficking and domestic terrorism.”
He said as the times changed, the bureau’s priorities had to change and they did.
“We still work civil rights cases, but it’s not as much race related as it once was. Then, white-collar crime was bank tellers stealing money from their employers, which still happens from time to time, but now it’s more mortgage fraud and health care fraud.
He said between the evolution of computers and Sept. 11, 2001, the complexion of the FBI changed.
“It had to. I think the FBI has done a magnificent job of changing with the times and being prepared to handle the changes in crimes,” he said. “They have always done that. Look back years ago when the bureau was developed, there were gangsters and mobsters in the early years. Then the crimes started changing and so did the bureau, just like it has now.”
During his years in the Shoals, Girsch gained a solid reputation with local law enforcement agencies.
“The good thing about Dan was he was a local police officer before he got into the bureau,” said Tuscumbia Police Chief Tony Logan, who worked with Girsch for years. “Because of that, he understood the role of law enforcement.”
Sheffield Police Chief Greg Ray said he never hesitated to call Girsch for help.
“He was always easy to work with. He would call up a local department in a heartbeat and ask for help and he offered help anytime we needed it,” Ray said.
He said one of the first cases he worked with Girsch involved checks.
“It didn’t seem like a big deal, and it wasn’t,” Ray said. “But Dan worked it with me and worked it as hard as if it was a major case. He was always willing to help at any time.”
Girsch, 53, worked with the Tampa Police Department for four years before joining the FBI. For 24 years, he served as a hostage negotiator.
To be a good negotiator, Girsch said it takes patience and the ability to listen to people.
“You’re try to meet their needs so that everyone goes free. It’s a lot of social work and a lot of cop work,” Girsch said.
During the years, he has worked a number of international kidnapping ransom cases. In fact, being a negotiator has taken Girsch all over the world.
“And he was very good at it,” Ray said.
Girsch also taught negotiating tactics to law enforcement officers. He tried to teach two hostage negotiation classes each year to state and local law enforcement officers. He said he taught more than 2,000 officers.
“He was a good as it got in negotiating,” Logan said. “And he made sure those he trained were as good as they could be.”
Girsch said although the crimes and the bureau changed during his years of service, the 26 years went by fast.
“It’s a different world we live it today, no doubt about that,” Girsch said. “I’m a better person and agent for going through those changes and growing with the changes.
“Historically, the FBI is thought of as the finest law enforcement agency in the world. Those three letters (FBI) get people’s attention. I’m proud I was a part of it.”