Pruitt's revealing view on lights and sirens

There is precisely one specialty field in law enforcement that should command the immediate, unyielding and unquestio...

Posted: Apr 6, 2018 5:15 PM
Updated: Apr 6, 2018 5:15 PM

There is precisely one specialty field in law enforcement that should command the immediate, unyielding and unquestioned respect of anyone focused enough to catch these unsung heroes in action.

Those who hold this job are not famous. Although they live in our neighborhoods, shop where we shop and dine where we dine, you would never recognize them on the street. Rather than seeking celebrity, they hide in plain sight, which is exactly how they want it.

These patriots do not hold high office, but instead are the men and women of protective security details throughout government who risk their lives every day to serve and protect those who control the levers of power.

This week we learned that one of those individuals in power, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, who receives protection from armed security officers, reportedly retaliated against at least one of his security agents after being told it was against policy to activate their vehicle's emergency lights and siren so Pruitt could rush to the airport or to dinner at a Washington restaurant.

While halting traffic and blowing through intersections might be permissible for a head of state, a government official under threat or one facing an emergency situation, Pruitt apparently thought it OK to inconvenience motorists and pedestrians around him simply because he was running late.

Travel the streets of Washington or state capitals around the country and you are bound to see black armored SUVs and sedans ferrying government officials from home to work, to meetings of great import, or to airports and train stations as they travel to conduct official duties. Although the official being transported -- the "protectee" in security detail parlance -- may have different goals to accomplish at a given meeting or event, the mission of the security detail is always the same: to safeguard the protectee from harm and embarrassment.

With continually evolving threats from violent individuals and groups, the number of government officials receiving personal protection has increased as agencies have moved to create highly trained teams and units to secure their respective chief executives. Some of these executives receive 24-hour physical security, while others receive scaled-down versions based on the threat picture on any given day.

When I worked at the FBI as a staffer under former Directors James Comey and Robert Mueller, I saw firsthand the incredible bond that forms between senior government officials and their security agents. The assigned protective team learns and adapts to the wishes and idiosyncrasies of the protectee, and the person being protected comes to understand and appreciate the gravity of being surrounded by a team of professionals whose job it is to sacrifice their own lives, if need be, to protect the official.

In Washington, there is an unfortunate phenomenon known as "earpiece envy," where being surrounded by armed security agents speaking into microphones attached to their shirt cuffs is something to be coveted as it bolsters an incredible sense of self-importance. With all the trappings of power, it can be easy for government leaders to start viewing their security bubble as less of a privilege and more as a commodity that exists to ensure their own personal contentment and comfort.

Reports that Pruitt took issue with a security agent who was simply following the rules demonstrates his outsized ego and is outrageous. That he would reportedly demote the agent shows us his character. (EPA official Ryan Jackson was quoted by CBS News, saying, "We have no knowledge of anyone being removed from the detail for not using lights and sirens.")

Most important to a security detail is not being liked by the boss, but, instead, receiving a clear indication that the government official being protected will respect the judgment of those security professionals who wake up each morning in the service of another, not knowing if today will be the day they step in harm's way to save their sole client.

To underscore the seriousness of the mission, watch closely next time you see a government leader getting into a vehicle and you'll notice that, incredibly, it is the job of one specific security agent to shield the protectee's body with his own as the door on the vehicle is closed, quite literally serving as the last line of defense from a potential assassin's bullet.

Officials such as Pruitt and those entrusted with serving in powerful positions that warrant personal protection must respect the decisions, wishes and sacrifices of those doing the protecting, and should start treating them like professionals rather than pawns.

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