Assault of Law Enforcement Officers in the Line-of-Duty: Situational and Policy Contexts
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Law enforcement is an occupation with inherent risks. Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs) face physical and psychological challenges while responding to scenes, pursuing and arresting suspects, and managing hostile situations to keep their communities safe. Despite decreases in overall workplace homicides over the past several decades in the United States, LEOs continue to experience one of the highest rates of occupational homicide. Since fatal assaults are only a small, albeit important, piece of the picture when looking at occupational safety among LEOs, this dissertation explores the context of nonfatal assaults and makes comparisons between fatal and nonfatal LEO assaults to understand similarities and differences between these assault outcomes. This dissertation is divided into three manuscripts. Manuscript one compares the rates, trends, and situational contexts of fatal and nonfatal LEO assaults. Firearm use by suspects/criminals represents a significant occupational hazard for LEOs. Manuscript two examines the role of firearms in assaults and circumvention of LEO body armor. Rifles were responsible for most threshold exceeding vest penetrations resulting in injury. Manuscript three evaluated the impact of changes to state-level crime and firearm policies on fatal and nonfatal assaults of LEOs. Three strikes laws were associated with an increased risk of fatal assault. Missouri’s 2007 repeal of its permit-to-purchase handgun licensing law was associated with increased risk of nonfatal assaults with handguns. Law enforcement agencies and/or local level governments should consider establishing mandatory wear policies for body armor use to improve LEO safety. This armor should be engineered for comfort while providing protection against the types of firearms being used against LEOs. Handguns remain the most common type of firearm used in LEO assaults. State legislators wanting to address the lack of federal legislation mandating background checks for all sales could consider permit-to-purchase handgun licensing laws. Future research on LEO occupational safety should explore if and how situational factors independently predict fatal outcomes to better inform departmental policies. Other state and local policies, such as hot spots policing or focused deterrence should be evaluated for an impact on LEO safety and consider associations with both fatal and nonfatal LEO assaults.