VETERAN CENTERED POLICING
BY BRIAN GRAJEK | FBINA #271
The United States Department of Veterans Affairs employs about 3700 police officers in over 150 facilities nationwide including Puerto Rico. VA police work alongside other VA employees to fulfill the VA’s overall mission created by President Lincoln during his Second Inaugural address when he included the responsibility “[…] to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan […]”. VA Directive 0730 (2012) requires VA police personnel be tasked “[…] for the maintenance of law and order and protection of persons and property on Department property” (p. 3).
The VA police role is outlined in Training Unit #1 (Role of the VA Police Officer) referring to the American Bar Associations study of police in American society (1980) and focusing on items VI and XI: to assist those who cannot care for themselves and to provide other services on an emergency basis, respectively (pp. 7-8). These concepts were not created by the ABA but merely a restating of principles developed over 150 years earlier.
Sir Robert Peel authored his Nine Principles of Policing and they were issued to each officer of the Metropolitan Police in London starting in 1829. The Peelian Principles are as relevant today as they were in the early 19th century and include ideals we recognize as “modern” community policing. The VA police are currently using the concept of Veteran Centered Policing that falls in line with their motto, “Protecting Those Who Served”. This model of policing goes beyond traditional law enforcement and requires VA police use good independent judgment in assessing situations and determining appropriate responses. Veteran Centered Policing uses Situational Law Enforcement concepts to focus on gaining voluntary compliance, deference to a competent medical authority, or use of the criminal justice system. Veteran Centered Policing is aligned with the 8th Peelian Principle which states,
“To recognise always the need for strict adherence to police-executive functions, and to refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary, of avenging individuals or the State, and of authoritatively judging guilt and punishing the guilty. (Lentz & Chaires, 2007)”
The VA police are trained to gather facts and understand the availability of alternative programs before deciding to proceed with criminal justice actions if feasible. VA police Training Unit #8 (Situational Law Enforcement) explains, “[s]ituational law enforcement requires the application of common sense by the officer when deciding whether formal enforcement (arrest or citation) or informal enforcement (advice or warning) will obtain the most positive results in a given situation” (p. 5).
The VA police are not alone in recognizing the need for veteran-centric law enforcement programs. An emerging trend in criminal justice systems are Veterans Courts to address crime committed by former military service members. These courts are recognizing veterans’ crimes may be connected to combat experiences or related to mental health issues. “This cause is unique to veterans, and other problem-solving courts do not adequately address this trauma because other specialty courts have no inherent measures in place that are sensitive to or cognizant of combat trauma” (McCormick-Goodhart, 2013).
DeAngelis (2016) noted, “[…] veterans treatment courts have become so popular that what started in 2008 as a single pilot program in Buffalo has swelled to 435 programs around the country—348 more than existed in 2012” (p.20). The Veterans Courts and the VA’s Homeless Programs Office both use Veterans Justice Outreach (VJO) as a rehabilitative tool. “The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Veterans Justice Outreach (VJO) Program is a prevention-focused component […]” that “provided outreach and linkage to VA and/or community services for justice-involved Veteran in various settings, including jails and courts” (VA, 2017). This enhancing of partnership between the criminal justice system and the VA creates a pathway to rehabilitate our nation’s military veterans using a multidisciplinary team approach.
In April of 2017 during the first session of the 115th Congress, House Resolution 2147 was introduced by Colorado Representative Mike Coffman. HR 2147 is titled the Veterans Treatment Court Act of 2017 and states,
“This bill requires the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to hire at least 50 Veterans Justice Outreach Specialists, place each one at an eligible VA medical center, and ensure that each one serves as part of a justice team in a veterans treatment court or other veteran-focused court” (HR 2147, 2017).
There are 42 co-sponsors in the U.S. House of Representatives and has a companion Senate Bill 946 introduced by Arizona Senator Jeff Flake with 16 co-sponsors. These pieces of legislation can help the VA’s Veterans Justice Outreach program by providing additional personnel to collaborate with the Veterans Courts increasing the ability for the VA to help veterans involved in the criminal justice systems.
Veteran Centered Policing is a tool the VA police use to fulfill its vision statement: “[t]o provide 21st century world class police services and operations that most effectively serve VA beneficiaries, employees, and visitors while functioning as a critical and indispensable part of the corporate VA team” (VA OS&LE, 2018). The expansion of Veterans Court programs also demonstrates our society values its military veterans for the service they provided maintaining a free society in a troubled world.
American Bar Association. (1980). Standards on Urban Police Function, ABA Standards for Criminal Justice: Volume I, 2nd Ed., Retrieved from https://www.americanbar.org/groups/criminal_justice/publications/criminal_justice_section_archive/crimjust_standards_urbanpolice.html
DeAngelis, T. (2016). Courts for Veterans See Exponential Growth. Monitor on Psychology. Vol. 47, No. 11, p. 20.
Department of Veterans Affairs. (2017). Fact Sheet. Veterans Court Inventory 2016 Update. Washington, D.C.
Department of Veterans Affairs. (2018). Office of Security and Law Enforcement (OS&LE). Retrieved from https://www.osp.va.gov/osandle_overview.asp
Department of Veterans Affairs. (2012). VA Handbook 0730. Security and Law Enforcement. Washington, D.C.
Department of Veterans Affairs. (2012). VA Law Enforcement Training Center. Training Unit #1, Role of the VA Police Officer. N. Little Rock, AR.
Department of Veterans Affairs. (2012). VA Law Enforcement Training Center. Training Unit #8, Situational Law Enforcement. N. Little Rock, AR
Lentz, S. & Chaires, R. (2007). "The Invention of Peel's Principles: A Study of Policing ‘Textbook’ History". Journal of Criminal Justice. 35 (1): pp. 69–79.
McCormick-Goodhart, M. (2013). Leaving No Veteran Behind: Policies and Perspectives on Combat Trauma, Veterans Courts, and the Rehabilitative Approach to Criminal Behavior. Penn State Law Review; Winter 2013, Vol. 117 Iss; 3, p.895.
Veterans Treatment Court Act of 2017, HR 2147, 115th Cong. (2017)
About The Author:
Lieutenant Brian Grajek is currently a Supervisory Police Officer with the Veterans Affairs Police Service, at the Tennessee Valley Healthcare System in Murfreesboro, TN. His law enforcement career began in 1985 with serving two active duty tours as a U.S. Army Military Policeman and he continues to serve as a Military Police Senior Non-Commissioned Officer in the Tennessee Army National Guard. Lt. Grajek was a police officer with the Durango (CO) Police Department for four years before joining the Veterans Affairs Police Service in 1999. His law enforcement assignments included Patrol, Traffic Accident Investigator, Sergeant, and Lieutenant. Lt. Grajek completed his Bachelor of Science in Management (2010), Master of Public Administration (2014), and is a graduate of the 271st session of the FBI National Academy.
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