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Officer Safety and Extremists

An Overview for Law Enforcement Officers

Read the full, comprehensive report, Officer Safety and Extremists: An Overview for Law Enforcement Officers (PDF).

Law enforcement is a hazardous profession. Officers voluntarily put themselves into dangerous situations in order to protect and serve the communities in which they live.  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 - including violence against law enforcement.

Three particular factors underscore the importance of officer safety when dealing with extremists:

  • Law enforcement officers are often the people most likely to confront extremists who are committing or have committed criminal acts.
  • Criminals motivated by extremism often act in distinctly different ways than criminals motivated by traditional motives such as greed or anger.
  • Extremist criminals may often specifically target law enforcement officers.

Extremists have all of the same non-ideological motivations to attack law enforcement that traditional criminals may have, such as a fear of getting caught, a desire for retaliation, or spontaneous anger.  However, they may also have ideological reasons for attacking law enforcement that may be related to anti-government beliefs, conspiracy theories, hostility towards minorities, or other aspects of their ideology.

Some situations more often produce safety issues than others, including traffic stops involving extremists, residence visits involving extremists, confrontations or standoffs, rallies or other public events, responding to a criminal incident involving an extremist, or even retaliatory situations.

Officers should pay attention to all potential identifiers of extremist affiliation, including tattoos, clothing and jewelry; verbal statements; vehicular identifiers; residential identifiers; and documentary identifiers, among others.

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One of the primary reasons that law enforcement officers should be concerned about safety when dealing with extremists is very simple: it is the "street cop" who is most likely to encounter an extremist who has committed a crime or act of terrorism.

Highlights

  • Law enforcement officers are often the people most likely to confront extremists who have committed criminal acts
  • Criminals motivated by extremism very often act in distinctly different ways than criminals motivated by traditional motives such as greed or anger
  • For a variety of reasons, extremist criminals may often specifically target law enforcement officers
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