In 4 years, four (4) Code Enforcement Officers were murdered doing their job. One was shot and set on fire at a scheduled inspection, another shot inside city hall, and the third was shot posting a property. CodeOfficerSafety.org is a non-profit website that is focused on collecting data related to the safety of Code Enforcement Officers across the country. Since the 1980’s, the code enforcement profession has grown in scope and in numbers. Many states have created statewide associations to represent them and develop training curriculum. The safety of Code Enforcement Officers is constantly overlooked by jurisdictions. Whether it is a financial issue, policy concern, or general lack of support. The primary focus must be for local governments to protect employees in the role they ask them to fill. Code Enforcement Officers commonly enforce municipal codes, building codes, health & safety codes, housing, and zoning oftentimes with inadequate or no safety training or equipment. In many cases, they are also tasked with homeless camps, marijuana grows, dispensaries, condemned buildings, and COVID-19 requirements.
In 2018, the California Joint Powers Insurance Authority wrote an article titled, “Code Enforcement Officer Safety: A Paramount Concern.” This compelling article was written by a Risk Manager who noted, “Threats, attacks, and even deaths have occurred while code enforcement officers were performing their duties.” The author referenced a 2001 survey conducted by the California Association of Code Enforcement Officers where 63% of respondents admitted to being assaulted or threatened on the job. The article stated, “According to the California Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1973, every employer has a legal obligation to provide and maintain a safe and healthful workplace for employees.” Just like any professional role in government, with the right policies and training, employees can be equipped to protect themselves.
“Agencies should conduct and document a job hazard analysis that includes a hazard assessment for personnel protective equipment to determine what types of equipment to issue employees such as emergency radios, protective ballistic vests, pepper-spray, tasers, and expandable batons. All of which may be necessary protective equipment that requires specialized training, written policies and procedures, and reporting and documentation when incidents arise.”
In 2014, the Local Government Insurance Trust wrote an article titled, “Code Enforcement Officers, SelfDefense, and the Use of Force: The Issues That Can No Longer Be Ignored.” This article discussed the circumstances where Code Enforcement may put in a dangerous situation where use of force is the only option. The priority is to always deescalate and avoid confrontation, however, this is not always possible.
“But we all have to acknowledge that there may be extreme circumstances in which a code enforcement officer has no choice but to use force. After all, a code enforcement officer’s job includes actions that generate hostility, confrontation, and even violence, such as serving violation notices, placing liens and levies on property, authorizing the removal of motor vehicles and/or the razing of homes.”
“Taking proactive measures now, including reviewing job descriptions for code enforcement officers, establishing written policies and procedures, providing self-defense training, including training in the use of any device/weapon issued to or knowingly carried by code enforcement officers, will certainly help overcome legal challenges when they come. That should be an objective for all of us.”
The Code Enforcement Officer Safety website started this year in an effort to centralize the data and reporting of safety incidents throughout the United States. The numbers continue to rise as Code Enforcement Officers learn of this reporting database and as we discover new information. Since 1932, we have confirmed 23 incidents where a Code Enforcement Officer was murdered. In every case, the officer was murdered with a firearm. In every case, the Officer was not armed nor were they issued body armor. Time is of the essence to address officer safety training and equipment!
The safety of Code Enforcement Officers must be the primary concern for each jurisdiction that employs them. In many cases, these Officers are willing to meet the agency’s needs by taking on new roles and helping maintain order through the codes. There is a need for a minimum safety standard for Code Enforcement Officers. Below is a list of items we recommend your agency to consider for Code Enforcement Officers.
According to CalRecycle (State Agency), in 2006 AB 1688 amended Penal Code 830.17 to include illegal dumping enforcement officers. Code Enforcement Officers are often tasked with enforcing illegal dumping. Due to the dangers with this, this penal code section was amended to allow those who enforce illegal dumping to have arrest powers and carry a firearm with training. For example, “The City of Los Angeles has a number of Public Works employees serving in this capacity, which minimizes the need to request police assistance when involved with enforcement action.” Other states have also sent Code Enforcement Officers to POST training to properly carry defensive tools and firearms.
The Code Enforcement Officer Safety website has many resources and information related to statistics, articles, grants, and training. Ultimately it is up to the local jurisdiction and their risk manager to analyze the needs of their employees. Through the information we provide, we hope to help guide decision makers to provide the right resources to their Code Enforcement Officers.
•Standard Operating Procedures & Policies (template available through us)
•Bullet Proof Vest
Can be worn under the shirt to conceal it or as a vest.
Relatively inexpensive under $500
Federal grant may also contribute 50% of the cost (information on our website)
Provides direct communication to help
•ASP or Bite Stick
•Note: All of these items can easily be addressed by implementing policies and by providing required training.