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Risk Mitigation: Can Lead to Fewer Officer Fatalities

By The Investigative Operations Division, U.S. Marshals Service

istorically, law enforcement has been plagued by violence against its officers, reflected in the number of line-of-duty deaths. They lost their lives doing what they loved in an escalating war on law enforcement.

According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF), more than 450 officers were killed in the line of duty from 2010 to 2012.1 Furthermore, the use of firearms constituted the cause of those deaths approximately 40 percent of the time.2 In fact, that statistic is consistent in the NLEOMF data.

Many of the firearms-related fatalities resulted from ambush attacks; many others occurred during traffic stops and pursuits. Some occurred during warrant service and fugitive apprehension—critical law enforcement functions that are inherently dangerous. Law enforcement officers frequently come into contact with violent felons who feel they have nothing to lose and do not think twice before attacking a police officer. Despite the risks, federal, state, and local agents and officers arrest tens of thousands of violent felons each month without incident.

In Fiscal Year 2012, the United States Marshals Service (USMS) alone, through its national network of Regional Fugitive Task Forces (RFTFs) and district-led task forces, arrested approximately 123,000 fugitives. Many of the fugitives apprehended by the USMS are career criminals. For example, in 2012, 40 percent of the nearly 123,000 fugitives arrested by the USMS had four or more prior arrests and convictions. Within that number, approximately 25,100 had ten or more prior arrests and convictions.

Although the underlying charge may be a parole violation, the likelihood that the subject violated parole by committing another violent felony with a weapon is high. A review of USMS statistics demonstrates the danger faced by Deputy U.S. Marshals (DUSMs) each day. In 2012, the USMS arrested approximately 4,000 homicide suspects, more than 5,000 gang members, and approximately 12,400 sex offenders. Additionally, firearms seizures are alarmingly on the rise. From 2006 to January 2013, the USMS seized more than 17,500 firearms while conducting fugitive apprehensions.

Risk Assessment

With violence against law enforcement a continuing threat to public safety, law enforcement agencies at all levels constantly look for ways to mitigate the risk, including conducting internal and external audits of officer safety and operational procedures and thorough reviews of significant incidents involving their officers to fully comprehend how to mitigate risk.

The threats facing law enforcement evolve. It is only through rigorous training and the adoption of risk mitigation procedures that officers can stay above the threats encountered to keep each other and their communities safe. At the end of the day, safety and risk mitigation should remain a law enforcement community focus and continue to be a top priority moving forward.

In 2011, the USMS undertook its own internal review of policy, training, and fugitive apprehension procedures. Tragically, that year two deputy marshals were killed in the line of duty. The deaths of Derek Hotsinpiller and John Perry were felt deeply; it had been nearly 20 years since the USMS lost one of its own during an arrest operation. Seven state and local officers working with USMS-led fugitive task forces also lost their lives in 2011. As a result, in March 2011, USMS Director Stacia A. Hylton directed that a formal risk mitigation assessment be conducted to ensure that the USMS was taking every reasonable measure within its power to mitigate the risk associated with fugitive investigations and apprehension.

Within weeks, the Fugitive Apprehension Risk Mitigation Assessment Team (FARMAT) was created. Its members included subject matter experts from three operational divisions—Investigative Operations Division (IOD), Tactical Operations Division (TOD) and Training Division (TD) —as well as a group of U.S. Marshals and Chief Deputy U.S. Marshals. Throughout the review, the FARMAT team consulted with USMS district managers and received legal guidance and input from the Office of General Counsel (OGC) as needed. Additionally, Director Hylton convened a research advisory panel comprising sociologists and criminologists who are experts in their fields. Coordinated by the USMS Behavioral Analysis Unit, the panel reviewed available materials and made recommendations for evaluating shootings and other serious violence directed toward USMS personnel.

FARMAT conducted the review over a one-year period. During that time, FARMAT looked at all aspects of enforcement and tactical operations and training procedures. Following the in-depth study, a comprehensive report emerged that focused on five critical areas crucial to the USMS’s ensuring risk mitigation in fugitive apprehension: training, equipment, policy, procedures, and organizational structure. FARMAT scrutinized each area in order to explore modifications and remedies, and develop best practices designed to advance the recommendations.


The cornerstone of FARMAT’s recommendations was the development of High Risk Fugitive Apprehension (HRFA) training—a standardized, advanced tacticalbased curriculum designed jointly by IOD, TOD, and TD with the goal of enhancing arrest procedures and mitigating risk. Throughout the curriculum, HRFA training stressed planning, operational mind-set, and the philosophy of leadership by example.

The USMS conducted HRFA training over a 15-month period, from October 2011 to February 2013. The USMS completed 40 courses and trained more than 1,100 DUSMs. Although the focus was on high-risk fugitive apprehension, the skill sets learned were applicable to nearly all operational missions of the USMS.

“HRFA was the single largest operational training initiative ever conducted by the USMS,” explained William Fallon, Assistant Director for the USMS Training Division.3 “We were able to bring in subject matter experts from various divisions and districts within the agency and use their expert skills in areas such as building entries, vehicle takedowns, and trauma medicine in teaching over 1,000 DUSMs tactics that will save lives. We are not done. We are committed to continuing training for all USMS operational personnel and our partner agencies that is consistent in advanced tactics, operational planning, and other risk areas such as active shooter and is necessary to mitigate risk to them, their partners, and the public.”

HRFA training differed from traditional task force tactical training because it standardized both operational tactics and operating procedures throughout the USMS. HRFA also modified shield deployment tactics that proved extremely beneficial to ensuring a more deliberate approach to team entry; shooting courses to include firing with the shield, firing while moving, and firing from cover positions behind the shield; and short-barreled long arms training.

The USMS Southeast RFTF in Atlanta hosted the first eight HRFA courses. The state-of-the-art training facility there provided space for classroom instruction, tactical training with a 60-degree virtual training system, and a simulated shoot house used to train tactical entry techniques. Designed to be as realistic as possible, HRFA training allowed participants to experience the various types of fugitive apprehension scenarios encountered in the field and the enhanced risk mitigation procedures developed by FARMAT.

The response to the new training was overwhelmingly positive. Participants fully recognized the need for and benefits of HRFA training. As success grew, training expanded to other regional locations, including task force training centers in Chicago; Los Angeles; and Atlantic City, New Jersey. Focusing the training regionally with the USMS network of RFTFs was extremely beneficial as the goal of the HRFA was to reach as many DUSMs as possible.

“Without a doubt, HRFA has taken the Marshals Service to a higher level,” said Chief Inspector Joel Kirch, one of the training coordinators instrumental in developing the HRFA curriculum.4 “We now have a standardized program in risk mitigation that permeates the whole agency. This program has provided approximately 1,000 criminal investigators with a strong foundation in high-risk apprehension planning and tactics, and those who attend this training emerge as highly qualified tactical operators. This clearly makes the USMS a leader in the field of risk mitigation, and the result is greater officer safety for thousands more investigators who work on our task forces.”


The FARMAT review identified the proper equipment needed to mitigate risk and included a roll-out of standardized equipment on a national level. Both have made a positive impact on safety associated with the fugitive apprehension mission. All USMS RFTFs and district-led task forces have trained on and now use the same new body armor, tactical helmets, ballistic shields, trauma kits, and ear and eye protection; they also know how to properly maintain the equipment. The USMS funded the purchase of 1,000 shields and helmets for the field. Additionally, the same number of shields and helmets were purchased through the Department of Justice’s Asset Forfeiture Fund and distributed to USMS task force officers (TFOs) across the nation.

“Our criminal investigators are among the best in federal law enforcement, and this training has made them even more qualified to operate in dangerous environments,” stated William D. Snelson, Assistant Director for Investigative Operations.5 “The training they receive is critical to their safety during fugitive apprehensions. It is also critical they have the proper equipment to safely enter high-risk situations. We have numerous examples of shootings where injuries to law enforcement were avoided because the entry teams had ballistic shields and were properly trained on how to use them. The FARMAT recognized this need and agency leadership procured the essential equipment and provided our deputies with unparalleled training.”

FARMAT also recognized the need for standardized and robust communications capabilities through dual-band radios. TOD Office of Strategic Technology worked diligently to program and deploy radios to all USMS operational personnel.

To deal directly with situations where an officer might become injured during enforcement operations, FARMAT recommended the purchase and distribution of trauma kits. Prior to HRFA training, the USMS Operational Medical Support Unit (OMSU) consisted of 24 certified medics. In response to the new training, OMSU trained an additional 50 medics at Johns Hopkins University. The Deputy Trauma Course (DTC) was incorporated into the 40 HRFA courses, as well. Agency medics diligently conducted DTCs, instructing criminal investigators agency-wide on the proper application of issued trauma kits. As a result, nearly 800 additional DUSMs have been trained through stand-alone courses.

DTC training to approximately 1,800 criminal investigators is paying off already. Agency-wide, DUSMs and TFOs engaged in shooting incidents where DTC-trained medics acted quickly to apply tourniquets and other trauma response techniques. In each situation, the training helped save lives.

Finally, recognizing that technology and equipment change over time, the TD now utilizes the USMS Training Advisory Committee to regularly review weaponry, safety equipment, and make recommendations for both the replacement and purchase of new equipment.

Policy and Procedure

The development of a national framework to standardize USMS enforcement operations is especially relevant given the growth of the USMS task force network following the enactment of the Presidential Threat Protection Act of 2000. The USMS task force network transcends 94 judicial districts, and includes USMS personnel and thousands of TFOs from participating federal, state, and local agencies. However, each officer has been trained by his or her own department or agency. As a result, IOD, TOD, TD, the Chiefs Investigative Advisory Board, and OGC reviewed the recommendations of the FARMAT with an eye toward refining best practices and pre-operational planning within a framework that promotes risk mitigation and the execution of safe, successful enforcement operations; fugitive apprehension; fugitive-based initiatives; and criminal investigations.

Now all enforcement operations, from large RFTFs to smaller district task forces, have access to standardized planning and case selection procedures that also provide flexibility in decision making by supervisors in the field and their managers. The state and local partners who work side-by-side with USMS personnel on these task forces benefit from these initiatives.

For example, HRFA training pointed to the importance of pre-operational planning, understanding that fugitive apprehensions are dynamic situations that may quickly move from one location to another. Plans may be written or oral. A situational Operational Planning Checklist also was developed to assist the lead investigator. The checklist gives the lead investigator the flexibility to make team assignments, discuss alternative plans (for example, vehicle takedowns), and inform team members of the location of local hospital facilities should the need for medical treatment arise.

“Our goal was to thoroughly review and scrutinize every area of our fugitive investigative and apprehension missions to identify modifications that mitigate the risk to our task forces and state and local partners to the fullest extent possible,” said David L. Harlow, Associate Director for Operations.6 “The result is a national framework for enforcement operations that includes strict case selection procedures, standardized planning, and the adoption of best practices. Though our mission remains constant, the field in which we operate changes daily. As an agency, we must be prepared to meet every possible scenario with procedures and tactics that maximize not only the safety of our officers, but the safety of the communities we serve.”

Next Steps

The HRFA training program began with a cadre of approximately 40 instructors. That number grew to more than 100 as the 40 HRFA courses evolved and other classes were introduced into the training program, such as the DTC and radio communications. Once criminal investigators completed the HRFA training, they returned to their districts and respective task forces to share the philosophy, training tactics, and techniques they learned with their fellow DUSMs and TFOs, ensuring that the philosophy, tactics, and techniques were passed along quickly. Also, HRFA training touched at least six DUSMs from all 94 districts.

HRFA was the first phase of the USMS’s Operational Safety Training Program (OSTP), which will now focus on changes to the USMS Advanced Deputy U.S. Marshal training program and the development of a Tactical Training Officer (TTO) program. The TTO program is scheduled to begin this month, and will consist of five courses, each with 25-DUSM, over the summer. The plan includes training a minimum of one DUSM from each of the 94 USMS districts.

Once certified, the TTOs will return to their districts and use the lesson plans and course models to design a district training plan to address specific risk areas in their geographic areas. District offices will bring in partner agency task force officers to train with USMS operational personnel on HRFA-related skills development.

Both the FARMAT and HRFA training proved invaluable to the agency, and the upcoming TTO training will continue to provide tangible benefits. In 2012, while the USMS had several officer-involved shootings, all USMS and task force personnel survived the incidents. Additionally, USMS investigators have made greater use of tactical teams from partner agencies when encountering potentially explosive or barricaded structures. These lessons learned are now being shared with our state and local partners, with the hope that 2013 once again sees a decrease in line-of-duty fatalities.

Director Hylton made it clear that USMS will continue on-going risk assessments and take all necessary actions to maximize officer safety. Also, the Department of Justice has established a formal Risk Assessment Working Group comprised of representatives from all of its law enforcement components. Law enforcement is a dangerous business, but with proper planning for officer safety, risks can be mitigated. ♦


1“Officer Deaths by Year,” National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, (accessed March 22, 2013).
3William Fallon, Assistant Director for the USMS Training Division, email interview with the author, February 28, 2013.
4Joel Kirch, Chief Inspector for the Domestic Operations Branch, email interview with the author, February 26, 2013.
5William D. Snelson, Assistant Director for Investigative Operations, email interview with the author, March 8, 2013.
6David L. Harlow, Associate Director for Operations, email interview with the author, March 8, 2013.

Please cite as:

Investigative Operations Division, U.S. Marshals Service, "Risk Mitigation Can Lead to Fewer Officer Fatalities," The Police Chief 80 (May 2013): 28–30.



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXX, no. 5, May 2013. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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