5 ways LE leaders can streamline LEOSA policies
The simplicity of the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act (LEOSA) has led to well-intentioned, but misguided, administrative and procedural requirements
By Michael Harrigan
The Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act, commonly referred to as “LEOSA” or “HR 218,” was enacted to allow active and retired law enforcement officers to carry concealed firearms nationally, irrespective of local and state laws to the contrary. (I am using the term "retiree" to include all eligible former LEOs who served an aggregate of 10 or more years.)
I would like to share my perspectives on the law's implementation from a policy and leadership perspective. There is legislation pending to improve LEOSA, but I believe the biggest immediate impact on its effectiveness is in the hands of those in leadership positions who make decisions regarding the establishment and modification of LEOSA policies and procedures.
When I assumed leadership of the FBI’s Firearm Training Program, I was vague on the details of LEOSA. Being a federal law enforcement officer, national carry of firearms was a non-issue given the statutory authority under which we operate.
As I received inquiries from retirees, and those drawing close to retirement as to what they should do to carry a firearm in retirement, I took a closer look at LEOSA and my agency's related administrative procedure. I found the FBI process to be extremely straightforward in establishing eligibility for the necessary ID and a great model for other LE agencies to follow. If you serve for 10 years and separate in good standing, you are issued a LEOSA card. The ID is wholly separate from the firearms qualification documentation to avoid the requirement to reissue photo IDs on an annual basis.
I dug deep into the law and was struck by its simplicity. As a 30-year government employee, “simplicity” in legal and procedural guidelines was something to which I was unaccustomed. The more I researched, the more apparent it became that the Congressional intent behind the legislation was very straightforward ‒ to ensure qualified active law enforcement officers are in a position to respond to a critical incident and save lives unimpeded by local and state prohibitions on the carrying of firearms by otherwise qualified law enforcement professionals.
For retirees, many of whom have dedicated decades of their lives to preserving public safety, Congress intended for the officers to be able to protect themselves from those who would do them harm as a result of their previous profession. I would add to this the value a retiree may offer during an unfolding mass shooting, terrorist incident, or other violent crime where active officers are unavailable, and lives hang in the balance. However, the simplicity of the law has led to well-intentioned, but misguided administrative and procedural requirements in the LEOSA process. In many instances, these requirements make it unnecessarily burdensome for retirees to maintain their rights under the law.
I began to hear of the difficulties some recent retirees from federal, state and local agencies were facing in obtaining the required documents to establish or maintain LEOSA eligibility within their particular state. As a result, I started to examine the available state-level policies and procedures, along with many local agency policies, as they apply to LEOSA. I was surprised to discover how widely they varied.
Most place additional layers of administrative requirements on the retiree beyond that which the FBI applies to its retirees. Having previously served as a local officer, I can confidently say the FBI is not normally known for its streamlined administrative processes! To keep it in perspective, a retired FBI Special Agent has no additional authority than any other retired law enforcement officer – all are simply private citizens. So, why do many agencies go beyond the base requirements of the law as Congress intended?
Let's go through some of the concerns as communicated by retirees and I'll provide some suggestions to make it simpler for both the retiree and the administrators in their former agency.
1. Some agencies do not issue the needed identification documents.
A critical point to remember is the right of a retiree to carry a firearm nationally comes from Congress and NOT the agency from which the officer retired.
The law's “good standing” clause, along with the subsection addressing mental health issues, allows reasonable discretion by agency administrators to filter out personnel who would not be suitable to carry a weapon in retirement.
This is important for law enforcement executives to consider in the event they feel exposed to liability by providing the necessary documentation of service to the retiree. The problem is the right cannot be exercised by the retiree unless he/she has the requisite ID card verifying 10+ years of honorable service. Issuing the ID simply validates the retiree's record of faithful service and in no way ties the future actions of the retiree to their former employer.
One active deputy recounted how his agency will only issue LEOSA ID to retirees who complete a minimum of 25 years of service. While the law allows discretion in the issuance of the necessary card, I'm not sure why an otherwise qualified retiree who meets the standard set by Congress would not be issued a card. To do otherwise effectively leaves these retirees reliant on a Concealed Carry License (CCW), with the pitfalls we'll discuss in the next section. One point to consider is that a restrictive process for your employees does not affect retirees from other agencies who may live in and travel through your jurisdiction.
My suggestion is to follow the FBI model on the ID. It simply states that the person "separated/retired" in good standing, indicates the date of separation, a unique ID number and a statement on the reverse indicating the bearer is a former law enforcement officer who had law enforcement powers. There is no reference to LEOSA, firearms, concealed carry, or expiration date is indicated on the card – it’s not necessary. Leave an expiration date off. This eases the burden on the agency by not requiring the issuance of a new picture ID card every year.
Make the picture ID separate from the record of qualification. This is an immense help to your retirees who relocate to another jurisdiction in retirement. They will simply need to qualify in their new state of residence and carry that record along with the picture ID from the agency from which they retired. There is no reason a retiree should need to obtain a new ID card from their new state of residence.
2. Some agencies require the retiree to obtain a concealed carry license (CCW) before a LEOSA card is issued.
While having a CCW is a nice complement to the LEOSA card (much has been written about the possible limitations of the LEOSA right, so I won't elaborate here), it has nothing to do with LEOSA.
LEOSA provides a greater level of protection to our retirees than reliance on the individual state CCW alone, especially when traveling interstate. The CCW's validity frequently ends once the retiree leaves the state. Even for retired law enforcement officers, the CCW process can be tedious and entail additional fees and administrative steps not necessary with LEOSA. Additionally, any delays in the CCW process can effectively leave a retiree unable to carry a firearm for a period of time.
In many jurisdictions, policymakers have imposed requirements to obtain and maintain the rights under LEOSA that exceed those for civilian CCWs. Is it reasonable to hold our retirees to a higher standard to obtain the means to defend themselves than the average civilian? I believe many of these issues emanate from a lack of knowledge among law enforcement leaders who have relied for years on their official position to carry a concealed weapon and lack awareness of the CCW requirements.
I recently talked to a high-level law enforcement executive who oversees the LEOSA process for a major metropolitan agency. He mistakenly believed that his agency’s process for annual qualifications matched the state standard for CCW renewals. In fact, his state has NO requirement for civilians to requalify to renew a CCW. This means that a licensed citizen from out of state may face simpler hurdles than law enforcement retirees from select states in obtaining the right to carry a firearm in their interstate travels. By providing access to the required documentation for your retirees, you are protecting them from falling into legal jeopardy should they cross into a jurisdiction that does not recognize their CCW.
3. Some agencies provide a lack of firearm qualifications options.
LEOSA specifically states that retirees must bear the expense of their annual qualifications to mitigate the financial burden for the former agency. The law does not mandate an agency to qualify retirees.
Some agencies do not want to provide the qualification opportunity, based on logistic or perceived liability concerns, while others see it as a great way to support their retirees.
Again, I believe the liability issues to be overblown as the retiree is NOT an employee and has no law enforcement authority. The most workable method for the agency and the retiree is the availability of a wide range of qualification options, both with the former agency, area law enforcement agencies and through the use of other certified law enforcement firearms instructors at local ranges.
In my state of residence, any NRA-certified law enforcement instructor can deliver the annual qualification. This alleviates the law enforcement agencies from the logistical burden of providing an instructor, many of whom do double duty on patrol or other assignments.
4. Some agencies require the retiree to attend additional training, such as legal, tactical and defensive tactics.
Being a huge advocate of the life-saving role effective training provides to the officer in the field, I believe our personnel never get as much as they need. But when it comes to LEOSA, training has its pitfalls.
First of all, retirees are no longer law enforcement officers and have no legal duty, or qualified immunity, if they act. This is where the confusion sets in. They are simply private citizens with an additional right granted by Congress to carry a firearm.
By requiring training during the annual qualifications (additional skill drills, scenario-based use of force training, legal updates, etc.) you are treating retirees akin to personnel with some type of official powers. By doing so, you are inviting liability should they be involved in a shooting and refer back to the required "training" they received. My suggestion is to keep it simple and stick to providing the annual qualification.
5. Some agencies have a complicated administrative process for the annual qualifications.
Again, keep it simple. The retiree’s last qualification as an active employee is good for up to a year, which allows them time to settle into their post-retirement lives without an interruption in their ability to carry a firearm. Pick the simplest qualification course as approved by your state for active-duty officers.
Remember, your retiree is now a civilian who uses LEOSA for self-protection, not for acting under the color of law. The law specifically states the retiree must qualify on the same type of weapon they intend to carry. “Type” is defined in federal law as “handgun,” “shotgun,” or “rifle.” This does not refer to “revolver” or “pistol,” or even to make, model, or serial number.
When I wrote the language on the FBI’s LEOSA certification standard, it simply states that the named individual met the FBI handgun qualification standard on a specific date. No make, no model, no caliber and especially no score is listed. It doesn’t matter. The law specifically states the retiree must meet the state standard for qualification. There isn't an official qualification course out there that does not have a minimum passing standard. If you meet the standard, you meet the standard. Period. If you qualify on one handgun, you can carry any handgun. Remember, the retiree is no longer your employee, let it remain Congress’ concern if they decide to add other requirements to the law.
Many get hung up on this process and place unnecessary information on the qualification record. As mentioned above, I believe it is helpful for all involved if the qualification certification is a separate document and not indicated on the retirement ID.
Know the law, and honor their service
The LEOSA right as intended by Congress has become bogged down in some states and jurisdictions by unnecessary and burdensome administrative requirements. This has the effect of causing widely disparate access to LEOSA rights by retirees, with some abandoning the process altogether and relying on CCWs.
As you consider the LEOSA process in your particular jurisdiction, I recommend you familiarize yourself with the requirements set by the individual state legislatures (which in some states is delegated to the county or local level) as it applies to the issuance of CCWs to civilians. You may find that your administrative requirements pertaining to LEOSA far exceed those for similarly licensed civilians. What is the purpose of placing these additional burdens on our retirees, who on average possess far more experience and training, for the same purpose of allowing them to protect themselves?
As leaders, it sends a strong message to our current workforce when we honor the service of our retirees and do our best to support their ability to protect themselves and their families in retirement. Our responsibility doesn't end when we hand them a plaque and say nice things about them at their retirement event. A career in public service entails incredible sacrifice, with many carrying emotional and physical scars long after their service has ended. The least we can do for them is to ensure they can exercise their right to protect themselves in retirement.
About the author
Michael Harrigan retired in 2018 as the Chief of the FBI’s Firearms Training Program following a successful 30-year law enforcement career. He previously served as the Chief of the FBI’s National Academy Program and held numerous other leadership positions during his 22-year stint with the FBI. He currently provides expert witness support to Eagle Security Group in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and consults with firearms range owners to ensure the safety and longevity of training venues. Email Michael here.