Distinguished Alumnus has a passion to protect and serve
Carlos Canino ’88 is no stranger to inner-city violence. He’s been in the midst of some of the toughest situations the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has seen.
For 15 years, Canino was a street agent, and for another five, he was a group supervisor in the field. Canino spent more time out in the field than most ATF employees, because he’s passionate about the difficult, hands-on work that saves lives. His resume is laden with the handling of violence.
Canino, the 2014 Westfield State Distinguished Alumnus, worked undercover on a violent-crime task force, targeting gang members and infiltrating two of Los Angeles’ most infamous gangs. He has dealt with white supremacist groups and armed drug dealers in the agency’s St. Louis, Mo., field office. He has trained Mexican law enforcement officials in weapons tracking and was in Mexico City in 2010 when gun traffickers were caught smuggling weapons into Mexico.
His work has gained him recognition and the right to a leadership position within the ATF. Since March 2014, Canino, of Tuscon, Ariz., has served as the ATF special agent in charge of the Los Angeles field division.
He oversees matters pertaining to the regulation of alcohol, tobacco and firearms in the Los Angeles region and has over 100 special agents who report to him. He says that many Westfield State graduates also work within the ATF, the federal Drug Enforcement Division and the Secret Service.
Canino emphasizes that he’s not the only Westfield State alumnus who is essential to the ATF. Dale Armstrong ’85, the assistant special agent in charge of the New England branch, is also a Westfield State graduate. Armstrong initially got Canino connected with the ATF in 1990.
Educating people in the community about what the ATF does for the community is Canino’s favorite part of the job. “I want people to know that our guys are out there doing a good job,” he says.
Canino didn’t seek the special agent in charge position; it sought him. He was still working hard as a group supervisor when the position was offered to him. He saw “an opportunity to change things,” he says, “and that’s what I decided to do.”
Canino is an implant to the West Coast. He was born in Puerto Rico and raised in Massachusetts, where he graduated from Westfield State in 1988 with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.
Canino transferred to Westfield State from Central Connecticut State University because he was attracted to the criminal justice major at the University. After graduating, he attended the ATF Academy, where he says his Westfield State experience served him well.
“A lot of people who weren’t criminal justice majors were stressed out a little bit because it was all new to them,” Canino says. “A lot of the terminology and reading assignments we had to do—I had seen all that when I was a criminal justice major.”
Canino became a street agent after completing the ATF Academy. In 1991, he worked undercover on a violent-crime task force for the LAPD in Los Angeles. He and the other ATF agents he worked alongside frequently targeted gang members in the Westlake and Pico-union neighborhoods.
In 1997, Canino moved on to other assignments in Miami and Puerto Rico, also working undercover. In 2005, he was promoted to the resident agent in charge of the ATF’s St. Louis field office. In 2009, he transferred to Mexico City to be the city’s deputy attaché to help train Mexican law enforcement officials with tracking weapons.
In 2011, he was promoted and transferred to Arizona to serve as assistant special agent in charge for the scenic field division.
To Canino, the most important part of his current position is “making sure everyone goes home safe at night.” After serving as a street agent, he understands very well the realities that many of his agents face every day. n