Use of Force

ATF Policy, Training and Review Process Are Comparable to DEA's and FBI's Gao ID: GGD-96-17 March 29, 1996

In recent years, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) has come under public criticism and congressional scrutiny, in part due to accusations that ATF agents used excessive force in carrying out their responsibilities. This report discusses (1) ATF's policies on using deadly force; (2) the way in which ATF conveys its policies to its agents; (3) the reasons for and the extent to which ATF uses dynamic entries and the equipment it uses to make them; and (4) ATF's compliance with its procedures for investigating shooting and alleged excessive use-of-force incidents. GAO compares ATF's policy, training, and review process on the use of force with those at the Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI. GAO summarized this and the following report in testimony before Congress; see: Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms: Issues Related to Use of Force, Dealer Licensing, and Data Restrictions, by Norman J. Rabkin, Director of Administration of Justice Issues, before the Subcommittee on Treasury, Postal Service, and General Government, House Committee on Appropriations. GAO/T-GGD-96-104, Apr. 25 (46 pages).

GAO found that: (1) except for a few instances, the 1988 ATF policy on deadly force was consistent with prior DEA and FBI policies and the 1995 Departments of the Treasury and Justice uniform policies which superceded their agencies' policies; (2) agents may use deadly force only when they reasonably believe that suspects pose an imminent threat of death or serious injury to themselves or other persons; (3) the three agencies' new agent training in their deadly force policies is similar and all agents are required to be retrained on a quarterly basis throughout their careers; (4) dynamic entry is used to ensure personal safety when access to premises is needed in high-risk situations or when suspects might swiftly destroy evidence; (5) the three agencies' method of dynamic entry and weaponry and equipment used was similar; (6) ATF reporting, investigating, and review procedures for shooting and excessive force incidents are consistent with recommended standards and similar to the other agencies'; (7) ATF and DEA excessive force procedures are generally comparable, but FBI procedures require that all allegations be submitted to Justice for possible criminal or civil rights violations before the allegations are self-investigated; (8) ATF generally complied with its investigative procedures during fiscal years 1990 through 1995; (9) ATF found that all intentional shootings were justified, most allegations of excessive force were unsubstantiated, and 5 agents warranted sanctioning for misconduct; and (1O) ATF is implementing lessons learned from the incidents, particularly the Waco, Texas, raid.

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