Before dawn in early February, like they had done many times before, North Miami Beach police officers and Department of Labor OIG special agents approached a Miami residence to serve a search warrant, as part of a joint fraud investigation.
But as the officers and special agents got closer to the home, a man inside the residence opened fire. The sound of multiple gunshots broke the early morning silence, with two bullets striking an NMBPD officer, one in his forearm and one near his knee. Special agents from Labor OIG were near the officer and in the line of fire—at least one bullet struck a Labor OIG vehicle—but, thankfully, none of the special agents were injured.
The injured NMBPD officer has had multiple surgeries and is currently undergoing daily physical therapy as he recovers. At a March hearing for the shooter, the officer said he’s eager to return to duty and hopes to do so in several months. Meanwhile, the shooter has been charged with the attempted first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer.
The incident shows that, for all law enforcement professionals, including OIG special agents, something as seemingly mundane as serving a search warrant can quickly become anything but ordinary—these men and women can find themselves in dangerous situations at any time.
After the shooting, an NMBPD public information officer said, “We do many search warrants. It’s one of the most dangerous things police officers do.”
We sometimes hear from reporters, public citizens, and even Members of Congress who may not understand why Social Security and other non-law enforcement agencies employ criminal investigators (also called special agents). We received a lot of attention in 2012 for our purchase of firearms ammunition, and had to answer questions about why we needed weapons at Social Security. We posted previous entries in August 2012 and October 2014 about this topic.
Most people aren’t aware that Social Security has armed Federal agents who investigate Social Security fraud—as well as other crimes that overlap with that jurisdiction. In New York City, SSA OIG special agents helped respond to and investigate the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. In Kentucky, SSA OIG special agents tracked a gunman as he fled into the woods after shooting a Social Security employee. And in Virginia, an SSA OIG special agent investigated a woman for the premeditated murders of a husband and a boyfriend (she went to prison for life).
This shooting in North Miami Beach is another clear example of why it’s important that we and other OIGs arm our special agents. As we stated in our first blog post about our ammunition purchase—and the Inspector General’s subsequent congressional testimony—our special agents nationwide investigate serious crimes, participate in fugitive and terrorism task forces, make arrests, and execute warrants.
To ensure the daily safety of our agents, we are committed to extensively training them in the proper use of not only firearms, but also other weapons and defensive tactics. Every Federal law enforcement officer undergoes mandated quarterly firearms qualifications and other training required by law and regulation.
In light of this recent event, we’re reminded that we hold in the highest regard our mission to protect not only Social Security for those who need it, but also to protect our agents, Social Security employees, and the general public from those who would do them harm.