The recent spike in attacks upon members of the justice community in the United States has caused many to be concerned. Perhaps most disconcerting is the diversity of the attackers. A white supremacist parolee kills the head of Colorado's prison system, Tom Clements. A discredited former judge kills Prosecutor Mark Hasse and District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife. A rogue, discredited LAPD officer kills the daughter of the captain he felt failed him. In the wake of these attacks, personnel and offices are increasingly reevaluating security measures.
In my study, Murdered Justice: An Exploratory Study of Targeted Attacks upon the Justice Community, I found a total of 133 incidents of targeted violence against judges, prosecutors and cops between January 1950 and December 2012. This work rose out of the need to understand this type of violence, to understand the potential adversary. All too often I have heard command staff make a statement regarding security based upon assumption without any statistical or practical knowledge to support it. Many times, as my research revealed, they were incorrect.
Of these events, 63 were categorized as being completed; 41 were successful in killing the victim. Another 70 events were classified as attempts, wherein no violence against a targeted individual occurred, mostly due to law enforcement intervention.
While 63 attacks over six decades is a decidedly low frequency of occurrence, especially considering the number of murders that occur every year in this country, it is nevertheless still of note for a number of reasons. First, these attacks place judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officers amongst the top four government members to be targeted for violence (the fourth profession being world leaders). Secondly, these murders are not the more commonly encountered random violence, nor do they stem from domestic issues. Rather, these are the most heinous of crimes, calculated and premeditated attacks for no other reason than the individual doing their job.
My research revealed three primary motives for this violence. Revenge was by far the most common motive, accounting for 67 percent of all attempts/completed attacks against 108 victims. Offenders' efforts to "derail and/or delay" an active investigation/prosecution was the second most common motive, accounting for 30 percent of the all incidents; there were 45 individuals targeted behind this motive. The final motive was one of "professional rivalry." While only accounting for 3 percent of all attempts/attacks studied (none of which were perpetrated against prosecutors), these were of note for two reasons: All of the primary offenders (those instigating the attack) were current members of the justice community; and all were successful in killing the victim.
In examining the victimology of targeted violence, some variation was noted between the attempted and completed attacks. Members of the judiciary were the primary targeted victim, accounting for 35 percent of the attempts and 43 percent of the completed attacks. Prosecutors were the target in 34 percent of the attempts, while law enforcement officers were targeted 31 percent of the time. However, in the completed attacks, a switch of positions was found, with law enforcement the victim of 30 percent of the completed attacks and prosecutors 27 percent.
The offenders behind these attempts and attacks were found to be predominately white male adults, followed closely by black male adults. In 83 percent of the instances of attempts to attack, the offenders were facing pending charges, in the instances of completed attacks, that percentage dropped to 48 percent. These charges included the expected violent and narcotic-related offenses, but also included a large number of fraud, property and, surprisingly, DUI-related crimes. There were also a large number of attempts and attacks stemming from civil- and divorce-related matters, which were almost exclusively targeting members of the judiciary.
One of the more unnerving findings of my study was in the locations selected by these offenders in which to stage their attacks. While a common assumption for such potential violence is that it would occur at or near the office and/or courthouse locations, my research revealed this not to be the case. The homes of members of the justice community were the site of 51 percent of all known attacks. While surprising, it makes sense from the perspective of anyone wanting to conduct a successful attack and escape. Office and/or courthouse locations throughout the United States continue to strengthen their security signature with armed officers, metal detectors, alarm systems and closed circuit television cameras. This serves the goal of presenting a formidable obstacle to potential offenders, thus causing them to look elsewhere for suitable sites of attack.
Conversely, the residences of most people provide an offender with many advantages. There is generally less overall lighting, pedestrian and vehicle traffic is often low, thus reducing potential witnesses, but perhaps most importantly, there is the tendency to reduce one's guard at home. No one, not even highly trained and experience law enforcement officers, are prepared to deal with an attack at their threshold. None of this has been lost on potential offenders. In the just the past three years, the number of attacks occurring at the residence has increased to 62 percent.
While my study focused on the criminal justice community, for those in corporate America, there were a number of similarities. Corporate executives ranked fifth in total instances of targeted attacks around the world. Like those targeting the justice community, the majority of these attacks occurred at or near the residence, followed closely by attacks during transit between locations. Worldwide, the attacks most often came in the form of shootings, however, in the United States, 58 percent were kidnappings. Equally of concern, most of these attacks occurred while the executives were by themselves, without any of the security normally afforded to them while at the office.
What this study reveals is, regardless of one's profession, all are susceptible to a targeted attack. As office locations continue to be hardened, potential adversaries will be forced to stage their attacks farther away from such locations. The sheer cost of a full-time protective detail is prohibitive for most organizations, government or corporate. This unfortunately results in the reality that for most people, security and awareness of potential hostile activity rests upon their shoulders. Security personnel can and should be proactive and provide these potential targets with an understanding of how and what to look for. It is only by understanding their individual vulnerability points, in relation to the indicators of a build up to attack, that early detection is possible. While this initial work can be considerable in terms of manhours, it is nothing when compared to the costs of a protective team. More importantly, it is the one step that can be taken now, which with periodic updates, will last well into the future for that individual.
Glenn McGovern is a senior investigator in the Santa Clara, Calif., District Attorney's Office. He has been in law enforcement for 20 years, including being assigned to SWAT and Special Operations teams and working for three years on international terrorism investigations with the FBI.