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Veterans Affairs Police and Security Service.

Safeguarding America's Military Heritage

The words spoken by Abraham Lincoln during his second inaugural address reflect the philosophy and principles that guide the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Title 38, Section 301(b) of the U.S. Code states that the mission of the VA is "to administer the laws providing benefits and other services to veterans and their dependents and the beneficiaries of veterans." To this end, the VA exists to give meaning, purpose, and reality to America's commitment to veterans of military service.

The VA comprises one of the largest departments in the federal government. Its budget for fiscal year 2000 totaled over $43.6 billion. The department employs more than 240,000 individuals, with almost 98 percent of the staff assigned to provide direct services to veterans and their families. The VA has facilities in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Philippines. The agency delivers veterans' services through 172 medical centers, 551 ambulatory and community-based outpatient clinics, 57 regional benefit offices, and 115 national cemeteries.

To assist in performing these services, the VA Police and Security Service protects patients, visitors, employees, and property at VA medical centers and support facilities. The efforts of these officers, along with all other VA employees, to preserve the peaceful environment requisite to the operation of medical programs prove vital to the mission of delivering quality healthcare to America's veterans. Across the nation, approximately 2,200 VA police officers are assigned to Police and Security Service units in each individual VA medical center. Organizationally, the Police and Security Service constitutes one of three main sections of the Office of Security and Law Enforcement (OS&LE), which provides guidance, consultation, and investigative and direct operational support for all elements of the VA. The deputy assistant secretary for security and law enforcement heads the OS&LE and oversees and develops policy and procedures related to VA facility security and law enforcement operations, as well as VA poli ce officer training.

THE ROLE OF THE VA POLICE AND SECURITY SERVICE

Statutory Authority

Title 38, Chapter 9, U.S. Code contains the statutory authority of the VA Police and Security Service. This statutory provision, subject to a duty of prior consultation with the U.S. Attorney General, enables the issuance of regulations governing conduct on property under the charge and control of the VA and penalties for their violation. The statute also authorizes VA police officers to enforce these regulations and to arrest persons committing violations of these regulations and any federal laws while on VA property.

In addition, the legislation that created the VA Police and Security Service intended it to go well beyond the concept of traditional law enforcement to address the special needs of the veterans seeking treatment at VA medical facilities. Not only does the statute prescribe training of the scope and duration necessary for VA police officers in the proper exercise of their law enforcement and arrest authority, it also prescribes "training with particular emphasis on dealing with situations involving patients." The statutory reference to the service and treatment function clearly signals the unique role and expectation of the VA police officer in relation to America's military veterans.

VA Policy

VA policy more explicitly defines the unique service role of the VA Police and Security Service. The policy states that to fully serve the VA mission while accomplishing specific protective duties, VA police officers must render courteous assistance to patients, visitors, and employees at all times and avoid the use of arrest procedures as much as possible. Moreover, VA police officers must handle persons with mental or emotional illnesses with a minimum of force to prevent their committing a violent act while awaiting professional medical assistance or advice.

Service-Related Activities

Dealing with situations involving patients constitutes one of the unique challenges of a VA police officer's job. This nontraditional law enforcement role requires VA police officers, in certain situations, to become active members of a "treatment team" for veterans seeking care at VA facilities. In this role, VA police officers assume "standby" or "take charge" status in situations where a patient's level of violence approaches or exceeds the ability of the medical staff. In "take charge" situations, VA police officers must assume management of the situation until they can return control safely to the medical staff to continue treatment. For example, at one VA medical facility, officers were dispatched to the emergency room in a standby capacity while the medical staff attempted to treat a veteran. Upon arrival at the emergency room, the officers observed a male standing at the door of the treatment room talking to himself in a loud voice. The medical staff subsequently told the man that they would admit hi m to the hospital under a physician emergency certificate. He refused, argued with the medical staff, and finally attempted to leave. The officers stopped him at the exit door. At this point, the man became physically combative with them. He swung wildly at the officers with his fists and kicked one in the groin. The officers eventually used pepper spray to subdue him and placed him in restraints. At this point, the medical staff took charge and administered medication to assist in calming the man. Subsequently, medical personnel evaluated him, treated him for exposure to the pepper spray, and admitted him to the hospital. Neither officer sustained serious injuries.

Service-related activities account for the majority of a VA police officer's time with only a small portion of time spent on crime-related work. However, in both instances, the guiding principle of the VA Police and Security Service remains preventing crimes and offenses through effective physical security and visible deterrence. VA police officers accomplish this specialized mission through the concept and practice of situational law enforcement that emphasizes correcting improper behavior, rather than arbitrarily taking enforcement action for minor offenses.

Generally, VA police officers consider law enforcement action only after they have employed reasonable efforts to obtain voluntary compliance for petty offenses; however, this practice does not apply to felonies or serious misdemeanors committed by unimpaired individuals. The VA Police and Security Service judges the effectiveness of its police units and individual officers through the amount of competence, enthusiasm, and pride in providing services to the needy; an effective level of physical security; and a quality of law enforcement that fully respects individual rights. It does not measure success by the number of arrests made or citations issued.

The VA Police and Security Service mission requires officers to have knowledge of general law enforcement methods and techniques. In addition, due to special mission requirements, VA police officers also must possess an array of special skills and abilities necessary to de-escalate volatile situations common in a healthcare environment. The special mission and role of the VA police officer presents a unique challenge in training. To this end, the VA created the Law Enforcement Training Center (LETC) in 1972 and charged it with administering a national training program that reflected the special mission performed by the VA Police and Security Service.

VA LAW ENFORCEMENT TRAINING CENTER

Mission

To provide duly appointed VA police officers with a specialized orientation to agency law enforcement policies and procedures, to train these officers in the proper exercise of statutory law enforcement authority, and to teach them to handle situations that involve patients or persons of diminished capacity constitute the mission of the VA LETC. Conceptually, the course provides police officers with the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to blend their duties as law enforcement officers with the special needs of the public that they serve. The unique, service-oriented law enforcement training provided by the LETC also proves consistent with the training needs of many other special mission or limited jurisdiction federal police agencies. [1]

History

Early in 1971, the Office of Personnel Management converted VA guard service officers to police officers, which required new police training methods. At the request of the VA, the FBI's Washington, D.C., field office developed and conducted a 1-week VA Police and Security Service orientation at the VA Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

Later in 1971, the VA Police and Security Service training operation moved to historic Fort Roots, a former U.S. Army post dating back to the 1880s, in North Little Rock, Arkansas. The VA selected the site primarily because of its central location and because it offered a medical center setting where VA police officers could study and learn in the same environment that they worked.

Since its inception, the LETC has moved forward in concept, design, and duration. Reviews by the Department of Justice and the VA Office of Inspector General and the OS&LE have resulted in significant changes and increased professionalism at the LETC. For example, the basic police officer training course has expanded from 64 hours in 1987 to its current length of 160 hours.

Today

Currently, the LETC stands as a national leader and sole-source provider in the federal system for law enforcement training in a healthcare environment and other federal special mission or limited jurisdiction settings. The LETC conducts a basic law enforcement training program, along with in-services and specialized courses, for more than 2,200 VA police officers that serve at VA medical centers and other facilities throughout the nation. The LETC, a division of OS&LE, is a highly successful fee-for-service VA Enterprise Center pilot. [2]

The Enterprise Center concept gives the LETC the flexibility to extend services to and partner with other federal agencies. Annually, the LETC provides law enforcement training to about 500 police officers in residence programs and to hundreds of other nonlaw enforcement (VA and nonVA) customers nationwide in specialized programs. Since 1996, the LETC has entered into training agreements with the Walter Reed Army Hospital, National Guard Bureau, Indian Hospital Service, National Gallery of Art, Department of Justice, and National Interagency Counterdrug Institute.

The facilities at the LETC consist of an administration building and an adjacent three-story facility that contains a 30-room (single occupancy) dormitory and two large state-of-the-art classrooms. Future plans include a new administration building, an indoor pistol range, and additional dormitory space.

Currently, a director, a deputy director, six full-time instructors, and four administrative personnel staff the LETC. Instructors come from within and outside the ranks of the VA Police and Security Service; however, all instructors have significant general or specialized law enforcement experience. An adjunct instructor detached from the VA Regional Counsel's Office provides legal training, and the local VA medical center psychological services staff members provide behavioral science training support. In addition to training, the LETC coordinates national programs for VA Police and Security Service background investigations and badge issuance.

Prior to attending the 160-hour residence basic police officer training course, each VA police officer also must complete approximately 2 weeks of preparatory training. This training consists of a limited amount of formal instruction, self-study, and on-the-job training to introduce new VA police officers to duty-station-specific rules, regulations, policies, and procedures, as well as the basic concepts and unique aspects of policing in a healthcare environment.

Courses Offered

The 160-hour basic police officer training course represents the core training offered at the LETC. This course trains VA police officers in all pertinent aspects of basic law enforcement with particular emphasis on specialized aspects of security and law enforcement in the healthcare environment. It also provides VA police officers with the knowledge and skills to successfully manage situations involving patients, including assaultive patients and persons of diminished capacity.

All VA police officers must complete the prescribed course during the first 90 days of employment to maintain their law enforcement status and arrest authority. The major subject matter areas of the basic course include behavioral sciences, police operations, preliminary investigation matters, administrative issues, and physical training, which includes baton usage, defensive tactics, and arrest techniques. In addition, the LETC offers several 40-hour specialized and advanced courses, such as a baton instructor course, a detective course, a semiautomatic pistol course, and a supervisory police officer course. It also offers a 96-hour firearms instructor course, a 20-hour administrative investigation course, and seminars on self-protection and violence in the workplace. [3]

In-service Training

The OS&LE and the LETC recognize that continuing education and training prove essential to an effective police operation. Each VA police officer receives a minimum of 40 hours of training annually. Mandatory subjects include such courses as baton recertification, legal issues, and officer safety and awareness. In addition, at the beginning of the calendar year, VA Police and Security Service units must develop annual training plans and often incorporate different delivery methods. For example, they can use a monthly in-service training film provided by the LETC to fulfill 12 hours of the annual inservice requirement.

Program Review

To ensure that the training remains of the highest quality and meets the needs of the VA, the OS&LE and the LETC have sought periodic, independent outside review of the basic police officer training course. Over the years, various experts in the field of criminal justice academics, including past and present FBI officials and graduate-level professors, have reviewed the course. In addition, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock grants 6 hours of undergraduate criminal justice college credits for successful completion of the 160-hour basic police officer training course.

CONCLUSION

Many veterans of the U.S. military who have made sacrifices in the service of their country require medical intervention and other assistance. The Department of Veterans Affairs, along with its Police and Security Service, administers such aid to many American veterans, who have sustained physical, mental, or emotional injuries while performing their duties, and to their families and beneficiaries.

The primary role of the VA police officer is to provide the peaceful environment requisite to treatment initiatives at VA medical centers. Officers accomplish this function by conducting highly visible and inquisitive patrol activities to deter criminal activity while remaining alert to provide direction and assistance to veterans and their families. The role of the VA police officer proves unique in the law enforcement profession in that the clinical treatment of the veteran remains paramount while law enforcement action is initiated only as a last resort.

The VA Law Enforcement Training Center provides the necessary law enforcement training for VA police officers. Since its inception in 1972, the LETC has made great strides in its efforts to adequately and effectively train VA police officers for the rigors of their profession. Today, the LETC is a state-of-the-art police training facility and a highly successful VA Enterprise Center pilot that provides a comprehensive program of basic, in-service, and specialized police training for the VA Police and Security Service, along with a limited number of other special mission federal police agencies. As with President Lincoln's desire to help wounded Civil War veterans, their families, and the survivors of fallen combatants, the VA and its police officers have developed a deep commitment to honor and assist all military veterans and their families and ensure that these individuals obtain the level of care and respect that they so richly deserve.

Mr. Kennedy, a retired U.S. Secret Service special agent, serves as the deputy director of the Veterans Affairs Law Enforcement Training Center in North Little Rock, Arkansas.

Endnotes

(1.) For additional information, access the Office of Security and Law Enforcement's Web Site at http://vaww.va.gov/osle, or contact the Law Enforcement Training Center at 2200 Fort Roots Drive, Building 104, North Little Rock, AR 72114; telephone: 501-257-4160 (office) and 501-257-4145 (fax).

(2.) The Government Management Reform Act of 1994 authorized federal agencies to establish a new type of revolving fund (Franchise Fund) on a pilot basis to provide common administrative services. Unlike other government revolving funds, Franchise Funds are required to price products at full cost and compete for customers. The VA saw this as an opportunity to improve the quality and reduce the unit costs associated with such services. For additional information, access the VA Enterprise Center's Web site at http://www.va.gov/fund.

(3.) Firearms training is a recent addition to the LETC annual course schedule. Prior to 1996, the VA Police and Security Services maintained a long tradition of not having its officers carry firearms and armed them, instead, with only pepper spray and a side-handle baton. However, between 1985 and 1996, five VA police officers were shot and killed in the line of duty. As a result, in 1996, the VA drafted a stringent plan for gradually training and arming all of its police officers,
COPYRIGHT 2001 Federal Bureau of Investigation
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Article Details
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Author:KENNEDY, RALPH C.
Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2001
Words:2760
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