"I'm looking at people so closely that I know who has a gun on and who doesn't," says Shahna Richman. Credit: Jon Shaft

Chicagoans is a first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford. This week’s Chicagoan is former FBI agent Shahna Richman, 48, who’s now the owner and CEO of Richman Forensic & Security Consulting.

In the FBI, I focused exclusively on bank robbers, fugitives, serial murderers, kidnappers, and sex traffickers. I have discharged my firearm, but I have never killed anyone, thank goodness. Like most law enforcement officers, I would not want to even begin to count the number of people that I could have shot in good faith, but I always made every effort to use an alternative method. But I’ve had to physically take down more individuals than I could count.

I am literally five feet two and 100 pounds on a good day. Strangely enough, I don’t view myself as small. I think I am a six-foot-something linebacker trapped in a five-foot-two body. So my size really never affected me professionally. It still doesn’t.

I’m now fully retired in good standing from the FBI, and I own a forensic and security consulting company. The bulk of my work is large-scale event security planning. Clients hire me to design, plan, and execute security services for their events. In Chicago, I am familiar with almost every large-scale venue. I’m looking at entry points, exit points, vulnerabilities. We provide everything—armed security, unarmed security, explosive-detection canines.

My best compliment comes when my client reports that one of their guests tells them, “There should have been more security,” when I know, and my client knows, that the event was very security heavy. For the record, we try to look like we’re with the venue. So if the guests are wearing business suits, we are wearing business suits; if the guests are in cocktail attire, we are in cocktail attire. It’s a little harder as a female operative, but I’ll wear a beautiful pantsuit. My only downfall is the practical shoes.

Personal protection is another piece of what I do. A lot of times I pick up my protectee from the airport and deliver them safely to their hotel, and then I take them everywhere they’re going and I’m with them all the time. I don’t really stand around looking intimidating, but I never am complacent.

The minute you get bored, you aren’t doing your job. If you are standing around outside a hotel room where dignitaries are meeting for six hours, it may sound incredibly boring, but when you’re maintaining that vigilance, you’re not bored, because you’re memorizing everyone who comes and goes. You notice when the same individual has walked by that meeting room too many times. I’m looking at people so closely that I know who has a gun on and who doesn’t. The average person is never gonna notice that someone’s clothes are fitting a little tight on one side. But it’s my job to notice.

Last week I approached a guest and asked him if he was armed, and he told me he was. He was a lovely man, and he was carrying under the Illinois carry act. Except that the hotel where the event was being held had the signs with the gun with a slash through it, so he was not entitled to carry a weapon there. So I politely asked him to return to his vehicle and put his weapon away, which he did. Had he not complied, I would have had to remove him.