Law enforcement is a hazardous profession. Officers voluntarily put
themselves into potentially dangerous situations in order to protect and serve
the communities in which they live. Consequently, they must constantly educate
themselves about the dangers they might face and how to minimize those risks.
Officers face risks that range from undercover drug stings to volatile
domestic disturbances. Unfortunately, ideological extremists have added to these
dangers. Over the years, a variety of movements and groups espousing extreme
ideologies and radical social change have accepted violence as a viable tactic
to achieve their ends. Moreover, they have also shown a willingness to direct
that violence at law enforcement.
For several reasons, law enforcement officers are particularly at risk for
violence from extremists. First, it is the job of law enforcement to prevent
crime and to arrest criminals; this includes crimes and criminals with an
ideological motivation. Consequently, like other criminals, extremists willing
to break the law already view the police as the enemy. Moreover, many people
with extreme ideologies also view police as a symbolic enemy, as representatives
of a government or a society they oppose. Lastly, a number of extremists,
particularly those who adhere to various conspiracy theories, may believe that
the police are deliberately targeting them because of their beliefs, and
consequently may be unpredictable or violent in situations involving law
enforcement, even when they have not broken any laws.
The focus of this officer safety overview is primarily on the dangers posed
by those groups and individuals that are often called "right-wing"
extremists, specifically members of hate groups (such as neo-Nazis or the Klan)
or anti-government groups (such as militia groups or "sovereign
citizens"). This is because there is such a well-documented safety risk
from such movements. However, many of the general lessons here are applicable to
extremists of other types, such as left-wing extremists or "single
This overview contains information of use to any law enforcement officer.
However, anybody using this material should pay particular heed to two important
First, the material here is designed to complement, not replace, the safety
training that officers have already had. The overview provides information to
help law enforcement officers recognize potentially dangerous situations so that
they can apply the standard officer safety techniques and practices they have
learned through training and experience.
Second, this overview is not intended as a "profiling" technique.
No officer should target a person simply because he or she believes that person
may have extreme views. Those views are protected by the First Amendment; they
prompt law enforcement concern only when they motivate criminal conduct. This
material is designed to help officers take additional precautions for their own
safety when finding themselves in situations involving extremists. Under no
circumstances should officers presume that a person has committed or intends to
commit criminal acts solely because he or she is or may be an extremist.