NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Arming Probation Officers

August 7, 2003

Are probation officers -- who are responsible for criminals under court supervision -- social workers or law enforcement personnel? In a shift, New York City's probation commissioner has authorized more than 500 probation officers to carry handguns under a new policy intended to enhance supervision by increasing the number of officers required to routinely go into criminals' neighborhoods and homes.

There is a national trend toward arming probation officers as the number of probationers increases and duties become more dangerous, says the New York Times.

  • A longstanding N.Y.C. probation departmental policy had prohibited all but a handful of probation officers from carrying concealed guns on duty -- in contrast to city parole officers responsible for monitoring convicted felons released from prison early, who have been required to carry guns since 1930.
  • But in other big-city departments, including those in Chicago and Los Angeles, only officers who routinely deal with "high risk" offenders are allowed to carry a gun.
  • Other cities and counties around the nation specifically prohibit probation officers who work with juvenile offenders from carrying guns, and several states, including New Jersey, Colorado, Vermont and Connecticut, have laws preventing probation officers from carrying guns.

Over the past 25 years, probation work has moved from the office, where social workers counseled offenders in monthly meetings, to the street, and probation officers have started doing police work, including arresting those who violate the terms of their probation.

Source: Paul von Zielbauer, "Probation Dept. Is Now Arming Officers Supervising Criminals," New York Times, August 7, 2003.


Browse more articles on Government Issues