A federal bill introduced in Congress earlier this year would give special agents greater protection when intervening to stop a violent act, even if it's outside the scope of their duties.
Not surprisingly, the bill has drawn the support of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA) and the FBI Agents Association (FBIAA).
Federal agents are typically reluctant to perform local law enforcement duties, because they could lose the support of their agency or face local prosecution.
"If an act of violence happens on the street, they aren't permitted to intervene because they're going to be judged by the scope of their employment," Jon Adler, FLEOA national president, told POLICE Magazine. "If an agent intervenes to stop someone, they're on their own."
Two versions of the Officer Safety Act of 2012 have been introduced in the U.S. Senate (S. 2276) and House of Representatives (H.R. 4309) that allow the removal of prosecutions of federal agents from local courts to a federal district court when the officer acted to protect an individual from a crime of violence, provided immediate assistance to an individual threatened with harm, or prevented the escape of a person involved in a crime of violence.
"The 'Officer Safety Act' is a priority for our organization and recognizes the need to protect the brave men and women in federal law enforcement who intervene, in good faith, to defend our citizenry from acts of violence," Adler said in a release.
Adler says the need for the law was highlighted during the 2010 prosecution of Will Clark, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Clark faced a murder trial in the U.S. Virgin Islands after he came to the defense of a neighbor's girlfriend during a domestic dispute.
The case was dismissed on Oct. 28, 2010 by the presiding judge.
"Special Agent Clark took lawful actions to protect an innocent woman from violence, yet faced a subsequent prosecution under local law," FBIAA President Konrad Motyka said in a release. "While the charges against Special Agent Clark were eventually dismissed, he was placed in improper peril."
Another rare case of a federal agent intervening to stop a crime came in December, when ATF Special Agent John Capano tried to stop a pharmacy robbery on Long Island. Capano was accidentally shot by a retired Nassau County Police lieutenant who also responded.
Federal agents are more likely to receive a fair and impartial trial in federal rather than local court, Motyka added.
The bill was introduced in the Senate by Judiciary Committee members Sens. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). The House version was sponsored by Reps. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) and Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), the co-chairmen of the House Law Enforcement Caucus.