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 Officer Safety and Extremists: An Overview for Law Enforcement Officers
Introduction
Why Are Extremists a Safety Concern?
Common Officer Safety Situations Involving Extremists
Extremist Identifiers
Defusing and Safety Techniques
Conclusion
Introduction

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 issue" extremists.

Two Warnings

This overview contains information of use to any law enforcement officer. However, anybody using this material should pay particular heed to two important considerations.

  • 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.

Officer Safety Bulletins
•  Deadly Domains: Standoffs with Extremists
•  Traffic Stops Involving Extremists
 Printable Version
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