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Ch. 3 – FBI’s 5 Year Study, “Violent Encounters.”

The Offender

This chapter focuses on the offender: the characteristics of each and the attitude associated with their actions.

This is the third of a three-part study by the FBI. The first published in 1992, the second in 1997 and the third, the one focused on here, in 2006.  We must give credit to the three authors and their hard work and diligence in the research and publication of these studies. Thanks again to; Anthony J. Pinizzotto, Edward F. Davis, Charles E. Miller III.

Having interacted and interviewed many law enforcement officers during the course of these studies, the authors discovered most of the officers expressed a common belief that they probably would never be assaulted. From 2003 to 2004, there were approximately 117,973 law enforcement personnel that were feloniously assaulted. After asking the question, “Did the assailant meet your preconceived concept of what a police assaulter would look like?” they found based on the hundreds of interviews conducted the investigators have learned the answer: it is a resounding “NO.”

Offender History

The constant among the offenders was, on average, that they were young males, (26 average age) most were high school dropouts, white and single and tended not to have family responsibilities.

Family History

Each interview lasted approximately 6 hours. The family structures of the offenders varied widely across the board. 4 were adopted, 4 were foster kids, 10 never lived with their natural fathers and the remaining 25 were raised by a combination of fathers, mothers, grandparents, step-parents or associates of their parents. Despite claims of stability, 16 offenders indicated that their fathers left the family, at the average age of 5 years old. Many were removed from their biological families during their pre-adult life. 4 of the offenders were placed in a mental facility, stating that the court had placed them there. One offender said, “It made me more aggressive; my mom didn’t want me anymore; I was angry; met a lot of bad influences there.” Another stated, “I developed a street mentality.” Another related, “Life was much better at home, not so much supervision. I developed a feeling of abandonment, sadness and indifference.”

Nine reported being thrown out of their home before the age of 18. Some reasons were the following:

“I was thrown out for bringing a girl into the basement for sex.”

“I was thrown out for arguing and not listening.”

“Father threw me out for not working and selling dope.”

“Mom was strung out on drugs.”

“Mom’s current boyfriend didn’t like me.”

More than half of the offenders had family members who had criminal records. More than two-thirds had family members who abused alcohol and more than half had family that abused drugs. Overall, the offenders classified themselves as having stable environments, yet their own descriptions seem to contradict that claim. One offender claimed to have a stable, close, caring relationship with his mother. Although his mother may have cared about him and the offender may have felt close to her; she was rarely home to interact with her son. She was had an extensive criminal record and drug habit and she was a known prostitute. (Ouch, little chance for stability in this situation)

Criminal History

Without going too deep into this part, the history of the offenders was extensive. Starting from an early age and being involved in larceny-theft, drugs, robbery, burglaries, arsons, rape, sex offenses, murders, aggravated assaults, weapons offenses, etc. Expressing that the “street life” helped them to succeed in committing crimes and losing fear of being caught and locked up, as well as engaging in gun-fights and gang fights of all kinds.

Psychiatric History

During the interviewing process in a study prior, most of the offenders interviewed were diagnosed with some type of personality disorder; the two largest categories were antisocial personality and dependent personality. The current study, Violent Encounters, many of the evaluations were turned down, not completed, or jaded according to the information given by the offenders. Twenty-one of the offenders admitted that they had considered suicide at some point in their lives. 16 had made attempts, averaging 4 attempts each. The types of attempts made were pill overdoses, cutting wrists, hanging, shooting or having law enforcement officers kill them. (This is known as “suicide by cop”)

Military History

Ten of the 43 offenders had served in the military. None were on active duty at the time. One offender stated that he has entered into the military to quit the gang he was associated with.

Drug and Alcohol Use

A majority of the offenders admitted to using some sort of drug or drinking alcohol just hours before the assault on the officer. Thirty-three of the 43 offenders said that they routinely used illicit drugs. Their drugs of choice consisted were; opium, cocaine, marijuana, hallucinogens or synthetic narcotics and other dangerous drugs. Two of the offenders claimed to be gang enforcers and never paid for their drugs. The average amount spent each year to feed their drug habit was approximately $3,600. About 25% reported that they had committed burglaries to obtain funds for their drugs. Many would engage in the mixing drugs and even using alcohol while using drugs, creating “cocktails.”

Gang Members

Originally the study made no attempt to identify gang members; however, during the interview process 13 offenders admitted street-gang membership. (There may have been others, but they were not admitting to being gang members)  Formal education meant little to the gang members and certainly was not recognized as important to the gang’s goals. One offender reported leaving school after the sixth grade. Another said, “I didn’t need to read to sell drugs. I make more money than those people who write books.”

All 13 of the gang members stated that they lacked male role models in their households. Of these gang members, their average age when their father left the home was 3 years. Most of the families of the gang members had used drugs, alcohol and had previous criminal records.  Most reported that the gang was a family to them, more than their own family. Learning the “street” was more important to stay alive and gain status and material things.

On average the gang members committed their first offense at the age of 9 years. All had engaged in drug violations and weapons offenses. The average age of joining the gangs was 13 years. Most carried handguns or knives at a very early age. One admitted to carrying a shotgun. All of the gang members learned to effectively and efficiently use their weapons.

None of the gang members had employment at the time, or ever had any employment stability in their lifetime. Getting recognition and status within their own gangs was the “employment” they considered important. Each gang used different names and titles for each position within the ranks of the gang itself. Many of the “nicknames” given to each member of the gang were derived from their ability to perform their duties. Ranks from; OG or Original Gangsters, Lieutenants, bosses, Delivery men, mules, transporters, burglars, creepers, drivers, specialists, street soldiers, taggers, etc. Interviews record that some gang members would rob other “street corners” with regularity. “Lay people down” and if anyone got up they got shot, “…while we robbed them and took everything they had. Watches, money, drugs, shoes, jackets, whatever they had.”

The Neighborhood

All of the gang members stated that the neighborhoods they grew up in were important to them. Such locations were the places where they were first recruited into their gangs, were taught to steal card, commit crimes, etc. Some reported to love their neighborhoods to the point of taking care of old people, buying clothes for kids, buying groceries for single moms, etc. Taking the role of a type of “Robin Hood” was not uncommon in many places. In turn, the kids and neighborhoods would take care of the gang members by watching for police, other rival gangs, strangers, and even hiding them when being pursued by law enforcement.

All of the gang members came from dysfunctional families. Each had experienced some type of abuse from within the family setting and outside of the family setting as well. Many reported that violence was a normal part of the area. Gunfights were occurring every day as well as other types of violence. Retaliation from rival gangs, rival drugs dealers and sellers was not only expected, but had to occur to gain the proper respect and fear from residents in the neighborhoods.


The offenders generally had been exposed to a much higher amount of violence at an earlier age then the officers they attacked. The offenders were more readily able and more willing to use force, including deadly force than the police officers. The goal of every gang member was to achieve status and respect within their gangs. Gang members were respected only when feared. Fear was achieved through repeated acts of physical violence against others.

Officers who respond to such calls and subjects MUST be aware of the danger around them. Reading this report has enlightened many to the characteristics of offenders and gang members as well.

We, as citizens, can learn from such studies and put this information to use daily. Avoiding areas that are known to be dangerous, realizing the mentality of certain people and how real a shooting can be for anyone in the wrong place at the wrong time. Being able to recognize the signs and act accordingly is the whole goal here. Survival is the goal, knowledge is the key to that survival.

Damon Thueson and Steve Beckstead

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