House, Senate Leaders Introduce Bill to Empower and Protect Probation Officers

Washington, D.C.— Congressman Dave Reichert (R-WA) joined Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-NJ) and Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Dianne Feinstein, (D-CA), in introducing a bill today to protect probation officers and enhance their ability to do their job by giving them authority to arrest a third party who forcibly interferes with an officer’s performance of his or her official duties.

Under current law, a probation officer may arrest a probationer or individual on supervised release if the officer has probable cause to believe the offender has violated a condition of his or her probation or release. However, current law does not address a probation officer’s arrest authority in situations where a third party attempts to physically obstruct the officer or cause the officer physical harm. When a probation officer encounters an uncooperative or violent third party, the officer may be forced to retreat because the officer lacks authority to restrain the third party, exposing the officer to greater risk of harm and allowing the third party to evade capture.

“Every day probation officers put themselves in situations where they are not only vulnerable to physical threats from their parolees, but also from their parolees’ friends, family, and the individuals they surround themselves with,” Rep. Reichert said. “Current law handicaps these officers from having the necessary authority to ensure their own safety as well as the safety of the people they are trying to protect. This bipartisan, commonsense bill would update the law to give our probation officers the tools to continue to do their job safely and with confidence.”

“Probation officers are asked to put themselves in precarious situations every day but are limited in their ability to respond when third parties interfere with their job,” Rep. Pascrell said. “When a third party interferes with parole officers’ official duties, they often have limited recourse to deescalate the situation, which puts their safety and the safety of those around them at risk. Thankfully, this bipartisan bill would solve the problem by extending probation officers a right they deserve: the right to protect themselves and the public.

“This legislation will give probation officers important tools to protect themselves against hostile individuals who attempt to harm them or otherwise interfere with their ability to carry out their important mission,” Senator Hatch said. “At the same time, this legislation will free up resources for local police forces, who will no longer need to accompany probation officers as frequently in order to provide backup. Many states give state probation officers authority to arrest third parties who forcibly interfere with an officer’s performance of his or her official duties. It makes sense to give federal probation officers the same authority.”

“When probation officers visit offenders and conduct searches, they are frequently confronted by hostile third parties who interfere with their ability to do their jobs, sometimes with violence,” said Senator Feinstein. “In 2014, there were at least five instances where probation officers had to call outside law enforcement to arrest these individuals. Our bill would simply give probation officers the authority to arrest third parties to protect their safety.”

Nathan R. Catura, National President of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA), praised the introduction of the bicameral bill. "For far too long, the authority of U.S. Probation Officers has been fatally flawed and puts at risk these law enforcement professionals that often deal with the most violent criminals,” Catura said.  “That is why FLEOA greatly appreciates the leadership shown by Senators Hatch and Feinstein and Reps. Reichert and Pascrell in support of these brave men and women and in seeking to close this potentially fatal loophole in their authority.”