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The Use of Deadly Force by Federal Officers


Numerous federal agencies are tasked with protecting the public. They include the FBI, ATF, DEA, and Federal Marshals. And while they do put a lot of bad actors away, they have been responsible for more than 150 fatalities and 80 injuries in a period of just five years.  That leads to questions about just how these agencies operate.

What are the Rules? 

Most people know that state and local law enforcement agencies have necessarily undergone some monumental reforms in recent years. But it seems the same is not true for federal law enforcement agencies. One major issue that remains behind the curtain is the data related to use-of-force incidents. While many local agencies have done away with the use of choke holds and have upped training related to de-escalation, for example, it’s unclear what the policy is at the federal level. Former officers can confirm that there is literally no oversight examining federal data, which makes it all but impossible to understand the who, what, why, and when of federal shootings. We do know that federal officers—and those working in tandem with them– are allowed to shoot at moving vehicles, and often shoot a suspect within seconds of an encounter, things that are not permitted in most non-federal agencies.

Facts Worth Noting 

So who are these individuals who wind up on the other side of federal officers’ weapons, and what do we know about the agencies that pursue them?

  1. More than four in ten charged with violent crimes such as rape, murder, and armed robbery.
  2. About forty percent had warrants for felony drug or gun possession, and in some instances suspects fired on officers first.
  3. 14 percent of people shot were wanted for only low-level charges, frequently simple parole violations.
  4. Roughly one in ten were accidental victims who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
  5. Nearly 50 officers suffered gunshot wounds, six of which were fatal.
  6. In about half of the shootings more than one officer fired a weapon
  7. The majority of fatalities occurred during operations involving US Marshals.
  8. US Marshals are not expected to engage de-escalation tactics in situations prior to using lethal force.
  9. Zero Marshals have been prosecuted following a shooting incident.
  10. About one-tenth of shootings occurred during broad daylight in high-traffic areas.
  11. One fatal shooting actually occurred when a pall-bearer was shot at a funeral.
  12. While all law enforcement operations must conduct a risk assessment prior to attempting an arrest, the bar for federal agencies is much lower than for state and local agencies.

Moderate Reforms 

The Biden administration has recently demanded the first reforms these agencies have experienced in roughly 20 years. Those reforms include:

  1. Requirements for officers to intervene if they observe excessive force in the field;
  2. The increased use of body cameras;
  3. Restrictions related to no-knock warrants.

Opaqueness Makes One Wonder… 

One huge issue related to federal policing is the startling lack of data related to excessive use-of force. Although the last several presidents have signed executive orders or laws requiring as much, we’re still waiting to see the reports. At Lobo Law, our Las Vegas criminal lawyers think that the lack of transparency could mean that some federal agencies are covering up civil rights violations.  If you’ve had a run-in with federal officers and believe this is the case, the experienced criminal defense attorneys in our office can help.  Schedule a confidential consultation today.

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