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U.S. Marshals Service – Expired Body Armor, Inconsistent Training Raises Risks For Marshals

Tuesday, July 11th, 2017

This release, from US Senator Chuck Grassley’s webpage, details a current lapse in proper training, and protective and trauma gear, for US Marshals Service officers.

Jul 07, 2017

Leadership was reportedly warned about need to follow through on safety measures, yet failed to adequately fund equipment or implement programs

Body armor with 13 percent failure rate still worn by more than 1,000 agents

Weakened criteria for training officers tied to flawed safety instructions

WASHINGTON – Thousands of U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) officers tasked with hunting down dangerous fugitives are relying on expired protective and trauma gear and insufficient training, according to information obtained by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Despite repeated warnings about the increased risks to employees and public statements prioritizing safety, agency leadership has reportedly failed to follow through with critical steps to ensure officers are appropriately trained and equipped to carry out often dangerous duties. In two separate letters to USMS leadership, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley is calling on the agency to explain how the lapses were allowed to occur.

Expired Body Armor
A 2014 USMS memo outlined a plan to replace body armor kits every five years to normalize the budget request process and ensure that critical equipment is regularly updated. Because most of the USMS’ 3,900 operations employees received their gear in 2011 or 2012, much of the body armor needs to be replaced by 2017. However, as of February, only certain portions of the kits had been updated for a limited number of employees.

In recent testimony before Congress, USMS leadership discussed the need to replace body armor consistent with the five-year schedule. However, USMS’ budget requests for the replacement fell well short of the level required to implement the replacement plan and contracts to acquire the new gear, indicating that the agency was knowingly underfunding the replacement plan. Earlier this year, the agency planned to use the same pot of taxpayer funds to provide across-the-board promotions to as many as 60 employees whose duties are similar to other employees across the country.

“It is troubling that the agency was ready to expend the funds to promote 60 people with no competition, while ignoring the pleas to replace body armor with a 13 percent failure rate currently worn by thousands of operational employees across the agency whose daily job it is to apprehend violent fugitives,” Grassley said in the letter.

Even with additional funds allocated, filling orders under the contract and deploying armor to employees will take time. Barring actual equipment upgrades, more than 2,000 employees will have expired armor at the end of 2017. Text of Grassley’s body armor letter follows this release.

Weakened Training Officer Vetting
In 2011, following several line-of-duty deaths, the USMS developed the High Risk Fugitive Apprehension Training Program to establish a uniform nation-wide training regime based on best practices and lessons learned from earlier events. While the program’s developers recommended that instructors have at least five consecutive years of violent fugitive apprehension experience, the final criteria was significantly less. Under the implemented program, instructors could be certified even if they had no experience in high risk fugitive apprehension and had never attended the training they would be tasked to teach.

USMS leadership was allegedly warned on multiple occasions that the lack of instructor vetting and oversight would lead to a breakdown in uniform training. According to information obtained by the committee, those breakdowns have led some task forces to adopt tactics that actually increase risks to officers. In 2015, a USMS officer was shot and killed while participating in an operation in Louisiana to arrest a double-murder suspect. The subsequent incident report, which the agency has refused to share with leadership in the field, revealed multiple failures to follow the training program.

“All of these warnings to agency leadership about the breakdown of the program reportedly were given both before and after the Louisiana operation,” Grassley said in the letter. “For the safety of other deputies and law enforcement officers involved in high risk fugitive operations, this event should be examined – in a transparent manner – in the larger context of the agency’s own policies, practices, and reports.”

Grassley is seeking information on the implementation of the training program, including an explanation for why the instructor criteria was reduced and whether the agency will adopt new safety protocols based on information gained from incident reports following operations like the one in Louisiana.