Featured Image Officer Involved Shootings: Suggested Practices for the Well-Being of Your Officers – September 2019 Training Op

Officer Involved Shootings: Suggested Practices for the Well-Being of Your Officers – September 2019 Training Op

Bryan Selzer Author
Bryan Selzer October 03, 2019

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We hope you enjoyed our September 2019 Webinar. To make sure you don’t miss the next one, signup here: www.leftasystems.org/webinar

Please Note: The views expressed herein are those of the presenter; they do not necessarily reflect the views of LEFTA Systems.

“I just wanted to say welcome to our September 2019 webinar. The topic today is, Officer Involved Shootings: Suggested Practices for the Wellbeing of Your Officers and Your Agencies.

Before I get started, I just wanted to say that these aren’t hard and fast rules. These are merely suggestions that I have personally used in officer involved shooting investigations or I’ve seen used an officer involved shooting investigations. But before putting any of these into practice, you should make sure to check with your agency regarding policy as well as your states regarding applicable laws and probably you’re prosecuting entities. All right.

I’ll go ahead and start a little bit about myself. My name is Aimee Lusk. I’m a Regional Account Manager here with LEFTA Systems. I am a former law enforcement sergeant from a Florida agency of approximately 650 sworn. I spent my last several years as a supervisor in the Homicide Unit. I have personally assisted with, conducted and/or supervised six officer involved shootings and observed the investigation of several others. I received my certification from the Force Science Institute in the study of human performance factors, and I have hundreds of hours of violent crimes, homicide, deadly force and crime scene training.

So going from the beginning, pretty much, the use of deadly force is authorized by Federal and State statutes for the preservation of life, against the threat of imminent danger. That’s pretty common sense that that’s why officers are allowed to use deadly force by statute.

But officer’s involved in deadly force incidents have a wide array of emotional and psychological reactions to the event. The presumption should not be made that just because they are law enforcement officer, they do not have negative feelings about the use of deadly force. And I say this because culturally, as law enforcement, we know it’s part of the job and if the time comes, we’ll do what needs to be done. But of the officers I’ve spoken to that have been in officer involved shootings, none of them left the situation without feelings of remorse. Not because they didn’t act appropriately, or they weren’t justified in what they did, but because they have some negative feelings about being placed in the position that they were placed in by the suspect.

And in talking with them, a lot of what they were saying, is they felt that they were not only responsible for their own life and the safety of everyone around them, but then they became responsible for trying to save the life of the individual that had threatened to them or someone else, and that that burden was extremely cumbersome on them and it’s something to be thought about that culturally we are very, very… We’re very machismo in a lot of ways. That’s probably not the best word, but we’re very… Our culture says that this is part of the job, and we just need to remember that sometimes people have a hard time dealing with that.

Next slide. Agency responsibility. Law enforcement agencies should have a protocol in place for how an officer involved shooting investigation should be handled in a way that preserves the integrity of the criminal investigation, and the least longterm harm to the officer involved. When the OIS occurs, the agency will be under the microscope. If you are not prepared, it will likely show then in the media, of all places.

Before the incident, officer should be familiar with, and understand the policies and procedures before shootings occur, so they know what to expect should they ever be involved in a deadly force encounter.

The response team should be in place. Which unit or agency will be primary on the investigation? Who will process the scene, suspects, and the officers involved? Who will respond to be with the officers?

IACP recommends an officer buddy system be identified in preparation. My former agency had an officer liaison who was previously involved in an OIS on-call to assist the officer.

The public safety statement. A public safety statement consists of pertinent, need to know information, and is not a detailed or formal statement. It is designed to assess danger, threat, and operational response. How many shots were fired? By whom? And in which direction? Do you know of any additional injured persons? Are there any other witnesses or scenes you know of? What charges do you have on the suspect? Are there any unsecured weapons you aware of? Please show me where you were standing, where the suspect was standing and where we may find evidence. The last question would also serve as a walkthrough, which you would get on any criminal investigation scene from the primary officer. These questions are in no specific order. These are just some example questions, you could ask different questions if your agency chose to.

The on-scene supervisor should attempt to obtain a public safety statement from the involved officers as soon as practical to do so, if it does not violate state law or agency policy. Agency should have prepared questions for public safety statement incorporated into policy to ensure consistency. Generally, the same question should be asked in all incidents when they’re applicable. A lot of agencies issue laminated cards to supervisors to carry in their patrol vehicles, with the questions that should be asked following an OIS.

The public safety statement is not privileged and is discoverable, so requesting supervisors should not deviate from the approved questions.

In lieu of a formal interview, the public safety statement can be used in collaboration with other statements and/or physical evidence to establish probable cause for the arrest of the suspect depending on your state’s law. You should confer with your prosecuting entity.

The scene is secure, so what happens next?

Call EMS for the involved officers. They may or may not have visible injury, but stress from critical incidents can manifest as high blood pressure, elevated pulse or body temperature, and/or respiratory issues.

The involved officers should be removed from the scene. Do not place the officer in the rear seat of a patrol car, or in a secured interview room where suspect interviews occur. Do not immediately disarm the officer if they’re of a stable mindset.

The officer should be reminded he or she should not discuss the details of the incident with anyone, but should be allowed to make phone calls to loved ones to advise them, in person, if they are all right.

Call your agency’s officer liaison, union reps, or an attorney if requested by the officer.

Once the officer has provided a public safety statement and been processed, they should be allowed to go home, either with a ride with a family member or from another officer. You want that officer off the crime scene as soon as practical to do so. In addition to everyone from your agency coming, the media is coming too. And if the officer decides that they’d like to go to the hospital, every attempt should be made to take the officer to a separate hospital if possible. I know some jurisdictions are smaller and only have one, so try to make sure that they’re separated at the hospital.

When to interview the involved officers.

The IACP Police Psychological Services Section recommends delaying personal interviews from 48 to 72 hours in order to provide the officer with sufficient recovery time to help enhance recall. This interval is particularly recommended for officers who were directly involved in the shooting, but it may be also necessary for officers who witnessed the incident but did not discharge their firearms.

Studies have shown that sleep cycles increase memory recall. Science backs the interview should wait if possible.

How the interview should take place. And to preface this, the investigation has occurred up until this point, and you have no reason to believe at this point that the officer has done anything criminal, and he is not a suspect. So this would be treated like a witness interview. The officer should be allowed to bring a representative if they choose.

A primary interviewer should be appointed. Consider providing a predetermined comprehensive list of questions to be asked. Having this list will prevent the need to approach the officer for additional statements. It should occur in a neutral area and be recorded following the laws of your state. Some require audio, and some require audio and video.

Consider consolidating the administrative and criminal investigation interview into one. The criminal investigator can cover pertinent administrative questions, which are generally also pertinent to the criminal investigation, with the officer. One interview could protect your agency from contradictions, which could arise from how questions are phrased by the interviewer. We all know that you could be meaning to ask the same question, however, a change in one word can elicit a completely different response, and having one interview could protect the agency from additional liability.

Following the investigation, the officer should undergo psychological evaluations by licensed mental health providers to determine if they are fit to return to duty at that time.

The agency should have a plan in place to return the officer to duty: i.e., the first day would be the range to requalify, and to pick up any equipment they may need to be replaced from the incident. Maybe it was collected by crime scene. Maybe it was damaged in the incident, and they have to get new equipment issued.

Do they want to return to the same zone of patrol where the incident occurred? Is a change in venue even an option at their discretion for your agency? That’s something to consider. Sometimes they may have to return to the same area, but if there is a possibility they might move, is that something they’d like to do?

All right. These are some additional options that weren’t discussed by the IACP, but these are things that I have seen in practice that worked. My former agency had an on-call training unit respond and issue the officer a new weapon at the time of the involved firearm being collected. He or she, the officer, would then qualify with that weapon that they were issued at the time when they returned to duty.

Although they were placed on administrative leave, their equipment, including their patrol vehicle was not collected. They were given direct orders not to wear a uniform, carry an agency firearm, or driver patrol car. However, those things were left in their possession.

The agency issued the involved officer an undercover vehicle to drive in lieu of a take-home car until their return. Their patrol car stayed parked in their driveway, but they got to U/C vehicle because at my agency we were fortunate enough to practice the Indianapolis Plan, and we could drive our agency issued vehicle off duty within county. So in order for them to feel like they weren’t being punished, they were given another vehicle.

And then once the Major Crimes Unit and IA cleared the officer, and the investigative packet was sent to our state attorney’s office, the officers were returned to duty, when they were ready, following the psych exam. The difference there is that we didn’t wait for the state attorney to complete their investigation because that could in some cases take years, and the officers were sitting on light duty. So once we had determined that they didn’t violate policy, or have reason to believe that they violated state statute, they were returned to duty.

This is a link to the IACP site, where they follow many of these recommendations, or suggest many of these recommendations to agencies.

When do you recommend you should allow a different agency to investigate instead of internal? That would be at your state’s discretion. However, smaller agencies tend to rely on other agencies to investigate. Larger agencies, sometimes we’ll investigate their own. The agency that I worked for, we investigated our own. However, it would really have a lot to do with your resources.

If anyone has any questions, I can be contacted at 1-800-405-3109. Thank you, and have a great day.”

 

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