Amy Jo Lyons does not appear easily daunted.
As the new chief of the FBI's Baltimore office - which oversees Maryland and Delaware - Lyons is only too aware of the devastating crime rate of the area's biggest city, one of the worst in the country.
"It's a huge task," Lyons said yesterday as her third week at the helm of the regional office drew to a close. "I see there's a great need for strong law enforcement, and we're ready to fill it, along with our partners. It means there's a calling for us to be here."
In fact, said Lyons, she intends to place a great deal of emphasis on partnership not only with state and local police agencies and prosecutors but with community and religious groups. Her approach to fighting crime, she said, involves encouraging people not to fear the FBI but to embrace it.
"I want to increase understanding, to ask for the community's help, and to familiarize ourselves with the customs and practices of other groups, and so they can learn about the FBI," said Lyons, who in the past few days has met with representatives of African-American, Muslim and Jewish groups.
The aim, she said, is to build relationships with them, "so that when members of their communities are victims, especially of hate crimes, they're willing to come forward and talk to us."
The granddaughter of a New York City police officer and the niece of a retired FBI agent who was in charge of counterintelligence in New York, Lyons grew up in Ridgewood, N.J., where her mother was an elementary school teacher and her father a psychologist. Following in her father's footsteps, Lyons received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a master's degree in the same subject from Ball State University. She opted for more hands-on work in 1986, when she was 25 years old, by joining the Drug Enforcement Administration, where she spent four years. She signed up for the FBI in 1990.
"I wanted to be able to investigate a variety of violations," she said, aiming to move beyond the DEA's focus on narcotics and trafficking. The FBI, she added, posed "different challenges."
One such challenge was the Almighty Latin Kings Nation, a gang that first emerged in Chicago in the 1940s and that Lyons probed during her first assignment in New Haven, Conn., as part of a crackdown on drug money laundering. She took that experience to her next assignment, in the Latin American Unit of the FBI's Criminal Investigation Division.
Lyons then spent eight years in New York, where she probed organized crime - the Colombo family, in particular - and commanded a joint operations center set up after the Sept. 11 attacks. She later supervised the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force.
"Since 9/11, our No. 1 priority is terrorism," she said. "We have reorganized and changed into an intelligence-driven organization, and that applies to our criminal side as well."
In her new role, Lyons supervises approximately 400 employees. Some are in regional outposts in places such as Frederick, Salisbury, Rockville and Annapolis, as well as in Wilmington and Dover, Del. She is the second woman to head the Baltimore field office.
She replaces William D. Chase, who was appointed to the post in April 2006 and who has retired. Lyons, who is unmarried, is looking for a home in Baltimore and said she especially likes the idea of living near the Inner Harbor.