Amid growing concerns about federal law enforcement's use of deadly force, more than a dozen federal agencies have agreed to follow uniform rules aimed at providing clear direction to officers and emphasizing the "sanctity of human life."
The policy spells out for the first time the importance of using lesser force whenever feasible in dealing with suspects. It prohibits law enforcement officers at all of the affected agencies from using deadly force against any person "except as necessary" to protect themselves or another from "imminent" threat of death or serious bodily injury.
Atty. Gen. Janet Reno approved the rules Tuesday and Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin was preparing to add his signature. Essentially a detailed affirmation of longstanding procedures, the 15-page policy comes in the wake of controversy over the 1992 siege at Ruby Ridge, Ida., when an FBI sniper killed a white separatist's wife as she was holding her baby daughter. Ruby Ridge and the deadly Branch Davidian siege near Waco, Tex., have resulted in widespread changes in FBI crisis management policy and heightened official sensitivity to the use of deadly force.
At Ruby Ridge, FBI snipers were given what amounted to "shoot on sight" rules of engagement.
FBI Director Louis J. Freeh announced the restrictions for the Bureau in a broad sense last January. Deputy Atty. Gen. Jamie S. Gorelick is planning to announce at a Senate terrorism subcommittee hearing today that Justice Department and Treasury Department officials have agreed to the policy, sources said.
It is unclear, however, whether the new rules would have prevented the killing of Vicki Weaver at Ruby Ridge. The FBI sniper's bullet hit her as she was holding her cabin door open for her husband, Randy, and two others running for cover.
Among the affected agencies are the Secret Service, the DEA, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the IRS, Customs, the INS, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the U.S. Mint and the inspector general's offices at both Justice and Treasury.