Enacted: Jan 1994
The American Probation and Parole Association (APPA) neither supports nor opposes the carrying of weapons by probation and parole officers; however, should the decision be made by an agency to authorize officers to carry weapons, that decision must be made within the framework of actual need, officer safety demands, and must be consistent with the laws and policies which guide that agency.
Staff safety has been a growing concern of APPA over the years. Increased societal violence, coupled with a changing profile of offenders served by community corrections agencies, influenced significantly by drug involvement and the associated violence, have forced the profession to reconsider and change traditional practices. This reality is mirrored in the increased demand by the general public to hold probation and parole officers accountable for enhancing the level and effectiveness of supervision being provided offenders in the community. This is consistent with the growing trend to get officers out of their offices and into the communities they serve.
It is within these realities of societal violence and demands for effective services that community corrections agencies must confront and address issues relating to office, field, and staff safety. As reflected in the APPA Position Statement on Staff Safety, "...community corrections personnel work in a volatile and potentially dangerous environment which requires that individuals and their agencies take every precaution to protect staff in the office and in the field." Necessary components of staff safety initiatives include the following: 1) a clear understanding of the agency's mission and the laws and policies which govern it; 2) mechanisms in place to assure staff safety which may include, but are certainly not limited to, the design and organization of the workplace and the establishment of policies and procedures regarding hiring practices, duty assignments, caseload management practices, and interagency cooperation; 3) regular and meaningful training on staff safety issues; 4) a clearly defined response to hazardous incidents; and 5) equipment necessary to reduce the potential for risk and harm.
There exists a debate over the role the community corrections profession should play in the criminal justice system: should the emphasis be on rehabilitation or should there be a greater focus on law enforcement functions? This debate, to some extent, has clouded the issue of staff safety. Probation and parole officers are unique in that they are neither police officers nor social workers, yet they are regularly called upon to fill each of these roles. APPA recognizes that community corrections professionals have multi-faceted responsibilities and encourages a balanced approach in the delivery of probation and parole services, where officers strive to provide community protection and, concurrently, contribute to the socialization of offenders and promote their integration into their communities.
Within the focus on staff safety, community corrections agencies must develop a continuum of responses appropriate to the realities of service delivered, the specific tasks performed by all staff, and the existing statutory authority. This continuum should be supported by clear policies and procedures which address a broad spectrum of concerns: physical and verbal threats to staff; field work; bomb threats; fires; confrontations, both in the office and in the field, by offenders and non-clients; transportation duties; serving warrants; and arrests. This partial listing will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction as will the appropriateness of the responses to each identified concern. Possible responses include specific training (verbal judo, field safety techniques, department policies and procedures on fires, team supervision/field techniques, and weapons qualification), body armor, viable working relationships with area law enforcement agencies, unmarked vehicles, cellular telephones or two-way radios, incident review committees, post-trauma counseling services, chemical agents, weapons, and firearms).
In the event an agency determines that officers should carry a weapon or that specific job functions require that an officer be armed, it is mandatory that exceptional care be given to the implementation of such a decision. This decision to arm staff must be decisively made by the agency's leadership based on a clearly delineated and comprehensive plan responding to issues of staff safety. Once this decision is made, the agency must dictate all choices as to equipment, training, and procedures related to carrying a weapon. Nothing should be left to the discretion of individual officers except perhaps whether or not they want to accept an assignment which requires the carrying of a weapon. Standards must be established and monitored closely for compliance. This implementation must include the following elements:
- Clear, concise policies and procedures which have been carefully reviewed by the agency's legal counsel and which contain the following: specifics on the types of weapons, ammunition and other equipment; general safety rules in the handling of firearms; off-duty carrying of firearms; training and qualifications; selection to carry; procedures for carrying a firearm; procedures for use; procedures following discharge of a firearm; procedures for disposition of firearms; consequences of misuse of firearms; and use of body armor. These policies and procedures should complement other agency policies on safety concerns and incidence review.
- Formal selection process which minimally includes a physical examination and a psychological assessment;
- Comprehensive training which includes sessions on liability, weapons familiarity and maintenance, weapons qualification, weapon retention, field safety techniques, verbal judo, and relevant agency policy and procedures. Additional training regarding weapons must be provided for specialized functions such as serving warrants, transporting offenders, arresting alleged probation and parole violators, and supervising offenders in areas traditionally underserved or not served by law enforcement agencies. Resources must be available for weapons requalification.
- All equipment should be specified by the agency and be of standard issue. This equipment should include the firearm and/or chemical agent, ammunition, body armor, holster, ear protectors for range firing, gun safes at the work site, cellular telephones or two-way radios, and unmarked vehicles.
- Field and home visit strategies/techniques should allow, if not encourage, officers to work in pairs. In addition, officers engaged in this type of work must be able to communicate with the agency at all times, either through the use of reliable handheld cellular telephones or two-way radios provided by the agency. Also, specific procedures must be in place to monitor officers' whereabouts while in the field.
- An Incidence Response Team should exist in every agency for immediate response to all weapons-related situations.
- A Standing Incidence Review Committee should review all situations involving staff safety to determine what, if any, remedial and/or preventative measures should occur within the agency.
Finally, while APPA does not take a position on the enactment of laws requiring an agency to arm staff, it encourages the enactment of legislation which allows agencies to respond appropriately to staff safety issues based on job function and risk potential. APPA encourages probation, parole, and community corrections agencies to recognize the importance of staff safety and to appropriately address this very critical issue.
APPA recognizes that many strategies may be adopted short of arming officers to enhance staff safety. These strategies should be explored and, when appropriate, implemented prior to arming officers. However, when the decision is made to arm officers, care must be taken to ensure that all the issues identified here are addressed.