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Ch. 2 “Violent Encounters” 5 Year FBI Study

Chapter 2. “The Victim Officer”

We must acknowledge that the officers who participated in this study did so being fully aware that their cases would be under intense scrutiny from law enforcement around the nation, but agreed to continue for the good of their law enforcement brother and sisters, providing a researched based platform for further learning and greater safety procedures.  Thank You!


Looking at family structure, education and military service, as well as any physical encounters during childhood and adulthood, before becoming a LEO, were all studied here. All 50 of the victim officers described their family lives as stable. 39 were raised by both natural parents, while only 9 were raised by a single parent. 1 was adopted and 1 was raised by grandparents.  All of the officers graduated from high school. Also included were higher education stats. 

1 master’s degree, 12 bachelor’s degrees and 13 associate degrees.   In the three studies, it appears that officers had served 8-9 years in law enforcement when the studied attacks occurred.

12 served in the armed forces, averaging 4 years of service and all were honorably discharged. 5 reported continuing in the reserves, but all officers had received formal weapons training while in the military.

When asked about what motivated them to become LEOs, 19 reported wanting to serve their communities, 10 stated wanting to make a difference in their communities, while 8 reported having the desire since they were children and another 5 reported getting interested through friends who were law enforcement. 4 were following in the footsteps of their fathers who were also LEOs.

Law Enforcement Training:

All 50 of the victim officers had attended various types of academies prior to entering into law enforcement service.

  • Local Police Academies – 27 officers
  • Regional Academies – 15 officers
  • State Academies – 6 officers
  • Federal Academies – 2 officers

The average age was 25 when entering into the academies, which provided 18 weeks of training on average. None of the officers reported attending more than one academy.

Demographic Descriptors:

The victim officers in the current report were slightly taller and heavier than the prior studies. When asked, the majority of the offenders reported that size, weight, race or gender did not have an influence on their attack.  2 reported that age influenced their attack. 2 offenders reported that race (white) served as a factor for their attacks.   The officers had an average of 9 years of law enforcement service when they were attacked.  Overall, the victim officers were older, better educated and more likely to have family responsibilities, then their attackers.

Of the 2006 study there were three types of training in which all of the officers were trained; side arm, shotgun, baton.  High percentages were also seen for chemical agent, weapon retention, self-defense/physical fitness, street survival, boxing/martial arts and crisis intervention. All of these other types of trainings were scored at about 60% or higher.

Behavioral Descriptors for Victim Officers:

After looking and comparing all three studies, a certain question was prompted by LEOs: “Do I fit the profile of an officer who may be killed or assaulted?”  The response remains: “no singular profile of an officer who is likely to be killed or assaulted exists.”

When looking at a side-by-side bullet point comparison of behavior from all three studies, there are some overlapping traits from all of the victim officers:

  • Friendly
  • Hard Working
  • Service Oriented
  • Willing to use force when justified/Used force as last resort
  • Doesn’t follow all the rules in regard to: arrests, traffic stops, handling prisoners, waiting for backup
  • Misreads situations and drops guard as a result
  • Survivor

There were more than what we listed, but these were the most common in all three studies. Each of these listed were also defined in the study; however, we won’t get into all of that in this post.

Prepared to React:

Thirty-three of the victim officers did not realize an attack was going to happen.  Despite that high percentage, the majority of the victim officers reacted immediately and appropriately as well. The quick responses from these officers are what probably saved their lives as a result. In one case, during a traffic stop, an officer was confronted by an individual with a handgun and without opportunity to draw his side arm; the officer immediately developed verbal communication thus relating information about his own family. This was covered in the officers’ training on a prior date, accounting for the success of his life, as the offender decided to escape rather than shoot the officer. Failure to detect the attack, the officer reacted well and according to training.

Misread People or Situations and Inappropriately Drop Guard:

Officers used “perceptual shorthand” in evaluating persons and circumstances.  A basic definition of perceptual shorthand: “is a rapid or abbreviated process by which individuals perceive and analyze the elements of their environment and, based on those observations or perceptions, act accordingly.” Unfortunately, these evaluations often proved inaccurate as officers failed to recognize that their perceptions and the perceptions of the offenders can vary greatly.   Also, the problem of a “routine” mentality is noted…complacency caused by familiarity or thinking it is the same old thing again.  This reduced awareness has led to many attacks and deaths of officers.  This may also apply to the “prepared to react” section.

Body Armor:

40 of the 50 victim officers in this study were wearing body armor. 2 reported that the vest was not comfortable, 2 mentioned that they were only issued heavy tactical vests and were merely conducting interviews at the time of the attack.  1 said the vest was too hot, 1 said that his dept. did not issue vests, 1 said that nothing ever happened in his dept. 1 was assigned to a school drug prevention program, 1 was a detective and felt he didn’t need the vest and 1 could not recall the reason he was not wearing a vest. The study concluded that more comfortable body armor materials should be developed.


It appears to us that, for the most part, the victim officers were really good guys who, for one reason or another, just didn’t have a perfect day. Whether they weren’t perfect in their department procedures, or just read the situation incorrectly, their lives were in danger doing what they do every day.  This says much for each of us as citizens who do not have the advanced training of our local LEOs.  We need more training if we are to increase our own safety and have the ability to “read” situations with more accuracy and effectiveness.  God bless our LEOs and let us be proactive and help where we may.

Damon Thueson & Steve Beckstead

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