"Legal counsel is only a phone call away for agents in need.“ This is the founding principle on which the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA) was established on December 12, 1977 in New York, New York.
FLEOA's founding fathers Robert Van Etten(Legacy U.S. Customs) Robert Johnson (FBI) Albert Felberg (IRS), John Knowles (Legacy Immigration), Edward J. Devins (FBI), Phillip Zizzo (IRS) - Standing in for John Bannon, John Pitula (Legacy Immigration), Raymond T. Jackson, William Silverman (IRS), Vincent Alvino, Robert Gorey (FBI)and James Burnett (FBP) established FLEOA after retired agent John J. Kearney, became the first agent ever indicted in charges of committing crimes while on the job. The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice conducted an investigation into the FBI's Domestic Intelligence Squad following the Watergate scandal. The investigation alleged that the FBI New York Squad 47, led by Supervisor John Kearney, conducted illegal investigative techniques. On April 14, 1977, approximately 300 federal agents gathered at the federal Courthouse in downtown Manhattan to show support for Kearney as he appeared for his arraignment. Enraged agents initiated the “Special Agents Legal Defense Fund” to raise money for Kearney's legal defense and that of 60 agents being called before the grand jury. The Kearney indictment was dismissed on April 10, 1978, when FBI Headquarters memorandums were found documenting that the field agents were acting on orders from headquarters.
The majority of agents who were the backbone of the "Special Agents Legal Defense Fund" were later the founders of FLEOA.
Robert Van Etten was elected the First National President of FLEOA, a post he held until 1990. Annual dues were $25 per year for active-duty agents and $20 per year for retirees. FLEOA's constitution was drafted during May 1978 with 650 members from 14 federal agencies. By the end of FLEOA's first year, membership had grown to 1,200 members.
During its first year, FLEOA covered various issues including:
As FLEOA continued to grow, its largest chapters were established as follows: New York City (October 12, 1978); Washington D.C. (March 27, 1979); Miami, Florida (April 4, 1980), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (April 24, 1980), Dallas, Texas ( September 11, 1980), Chicago (February 19, 1981) and Los Angeles, California (May 29, 1981). FLEOA continued to grow over the next few years to more than 3,000 members, half of whom were FBI agents. During 1981, the FBI established a complimentary organization, the Federal Bureau of Investigation Agents Association (FBIAA). Many of the issues worked on by the FBIAA were similar to those being worked on by FLEOA, as well as other emerging federal law enforcement related organizations.
During the 1980's, FLEOA worked on issues important to federal law enforcement, which included:
FLEOA assisted other organizations in establishing the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial and it further joined the National Law Enforcement Steering Committee, which represented over 550,000 police professionals to confront and deal with law enforcement issues.
During November 1990, FLEOA members elected its new President, Deputy U.S. Marshal Victor G. Oboyski, Jr. at the seventh National Conference held in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Under the direction of Oboyski and his team, FLEOA continued to meet elected officials in Washington D.C. to have additional legislative issues passed. Additionally, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington D.C. was dedicated.
In 1994, FLEOA along with various other law enforcement organizations was successful in getting the “Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 passed. During May 1995, FLEOA's membership grew to over 10,000 members. Oboyski and his team further worked to establish FLEOA's 24-hour hotline to ensure that agents residing in different time zones had the same timely access to legal services if involved in an emergency situation.
Some of FLEOA's other accomplishments during this timeframe included:
FLEOA continued to increase its voice on Capitol Hill and in the Administration. FLEOA membership subsequently grew to 11,250. In 1996, FLEOA went up on the World Wide web at www.FLEOA.org. In the “Members Only” section (a password-restricted site), members can access the additional features and resources. In the Legislative Section, members can review positions FLEOA has taken and obtain sample letters to their elected officials on topics concerning law enforcement. Additionally, an e-mail system was developed that linked all national officers, legal services, the newsletter editor, administrative services, agency presidents and the chapters together.
The aggressive work on legal representation, legislative work in Washington, D.C. and visiting chapters resulted in an increase of 15,000 members. By the end of 2001, there were over 20,000 members in FLEOA. On July 31, 2008, FLEOA scored a monumental achievement when its initiated proposal, "The Badge of Bravery," was signed into law (P.L. 110-298). FLEOA was also instrumental in the passing of the Federal Retirement Reform bill (P.L.111-31), a.k.a. "FERS Sick Leave Credit Bill."
FLEOA's sustained efforts also led to the Secretary of Commerce hosting a signing ceremony for the issuance of retiree credentials for its agents and officers. FLEOA was also the lead federal advocate for its Retired Members in helping to get the LEOSA Improvements Act of 2010 passed on October 12, 2010.
As the lead federal law enforcement association advocating this important legislation, FLEOA's unified voice led to the Special Agent Samuel Hicks Families of Fallen Heroes Act being signed into law on June 1, 2010 (P.L. 111-178). Thanks to FLEOA's advocacy, this important legislation covers all federal law enforcement officers. On January 2, 2011, the voice of the FLEOA membership prevailed when President Obama signed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010 into law.
Congress also passed the Investigative Assistance for Violent Crimes Act of 2012, an initiative strongly supported by FLEOA and the FBIAA. The bill authorized the Attorney General and DOJ and DHS law enforcement agencies to assist in investigating mass killings and other violent acts in public places. The bill was passed on January 1, 2013, after FLEOA advocated for the removal of an anonymous hold and the President signed it into law on January 14, 2013.
FLEOA accomplished a legislative victory with the ATF Special Agent Will Clark inspired Officer Safety Act. FLEOA drafted the position paper for the Officer Safety Act of 2012, a bill to allow removal to federal court by a law enforcement officer who is charged in connection with a personal time effort to stop a violent crime or assist an individual who has suffered. The Act was attached as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013, which was passed and signed by the President on January 2, 2012.
The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012 was signed into law on November 27, 2012.
On June 29th, 2015, the FLEOA initiated TSP Bill, Defending Public Safety Employees' Retirement Act, was signed into law. Those under the law enforcement retirement system will now be able to access their TSP at age 50 without incurring the IRS 10% penalty; same as of our state and local counterparts.
FLEOA has chapters in over 65 cities across the United States. Most chapters have at least four chapter officers. FLEOA is a charter member of the DHS Federal Law Enforcement Advisory Board and holds two seats on the Congressional Badge of Bravery Federal Board. FLEOA continues to provide a legislative voice for the federal law enforcement community and is frequently called upon to provide testimony at Congressional Hearings.
Most recently, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 302, the Preventing a Patronage System Act. This bill bars a president from unilaterally moving employees out of the competitive service, effectively stripping federal employees of their merit-system protections. FLEOA has actively supported this legislation to protect the rights of our members.
A top legislative priority, this FLEOA-crafted legislation was signed into law by President Biden on November 18, 2021. Named after heroic ICE - Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Special Agents Jaime Zapata and Victor Avila, who were attacked by a Mexican drug cartel in Mexico in 2011; this legislation responds to a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that effectively eliminated the murder conviction for two cartel members responsible for the death of Agent Zapata by finding that 18 U.S.C. 1114 does not apply extraterritorially. The Zapata-Avila Act corrects this miscarriage of justice by clarifying that Section 1114 does apply to the murder of U.S. law enforcement officers on foreign soil.
On June 22, 2022, FLEOA announced that the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey has ruled in FLEOA and the NJ FOP's favor in a joint lawsuit against the State of New Jersey for violations of the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act (LEOSA). FLEOA and the New Jersey State Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police (NJ FOP) launched this lawsuit to compel the state of New Jersey to comply with federal LEOSA law rather than undermine the rights of qualified law enforcement professionals. The order found that the LEOSA statute, 18 U.S.C. 926C, preempts New Jersey laws and regulations that bar an otherwise qualified law enforcement officer living in or passing through New Jersey from exercising their LEOSA rights. The ruling also permits LEOSA qualified law enforcement officers to carry hollow point ammunition in the State of New Jersey.
H.R. 521, the First Responder Fair Return for Employees on Their Initial Retirement Earned Act (“Fair RETIRE Act”), is a bill that FLEOA helped develop and allows federal law enforcement officers and other first responders who are injured in the line of duty before their retirement age to still receive their full benefits. This House of Representatives unanimously passed the bill in July and the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee unanimously passed the bill on August 3. FLEOA expects this legislation to move forward in the full-Senate shortly.
H.R. 3096, the Federal Law Enforcement Officer Service Weapon Purchase Act, requires the General Services Administration to develop a program to allow federal law enforcement officers to purchase their retired handgun from the agency that issued the weapon. This legislation has several critical benefits. First, it maximizes public safety. Federal LEOSA rights also allow qualified law enforcement to concealed carry after retirement, allowing them to serve as a force multiplier in the field. By allowing them to buy back their service weapon after retirement, officers who choose to carry are equipped to protect the public with the firearm they feel most comfortable with and have trained on for years. Second, it reduces waste. Many agencies simply dispose of retired service weapons causing them to wastefully end up in landfills and potentially seep hazardous materials into the ground. Instead, this bill allows agencies to sell service weapons back to law enforcement, thereby recouping taxpayer funds. As a result of FLEOA's tireless advocacy on this measure, the text of the Federal Law Enforcement Officer Service Weapon Purchase Act was adopted as an amendment to the House version of the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) the chamber approved in July. The Senate may advance its own version of NDAA, and FLEOA is busy working to ensure that our gun buyback language is incorporated into the final bill.
Since its inception in 1977, FLEOA has grown to over 30,000 members including more than 6,000 retirees. FLEOA has and will continue to realize the dream of its initial 12 agents to provide federal agents with legal representation and to be their legislative voice in Congress.