Kentucky State Police investigate the scene of a shooting in which a trooper fatally shot a suspect believed to have fled the scene of a highway crash. PHOTO AP/DAILY NEWS, JOE IMEL
FEATURED IN TRAINING
I've spoken with many officers over the years about use-of-force issues and sat as legal counsel with more than a few after an officer-involved shooting (OIS). For those agencies mired in past ways of investigating OIS incidents, it s time to recognize that in almost every case your officer is not a criminal and must not be treated as one. They ve acted in the very manner they ve been trained to act when under threat of death or great bodily harm to themselves or others. Sadly, some agencies still have not planned or prepared to deal with such events, and the officers who place their lives on the line pay the price.
In this article, I m not saying agencies should accept conduct that violates policy or law. There may be a time where a shooting or high-level use of force is not justified, and that ll be determined by a through review and investigation.
I ve yet to see this in the many events I have personally been involved in, near to or made aware of, however. Can it happen? Yes. The likelihood? Very low.
The point: Treat your officers humanely when they are involved in life-threatening events. As described in issue #94 of Force Science News (www.forcesciencenews.com/home/detail.html?serial=94), waiting to give an officer who is chilled or cold a coat because no one can figure out if it compromises some aspect of the scene is absurd and harmful to the officer.
I will restate my strong beliefs about the means to effectively and quickly deal with these events below.
Initial Response: Do's & Don'ts
The initial response requires officers/ supervisors to determine the following from the officer(s) involved (not necessarily in this order):
1. Is the officer or any other person injured/wounded? In a high-stress event, not all injuries are recognized or known without an assessment.
2. Where are the offenders? Do they still present a threat? Are they in the crowd? Where did they run or drive? Where did they throw the gun, knife, etc.?
3. Where s the evidence (e.g., the gun, knife, etc.)? Secure it and protect it against loss, destruction or contamination. Better to pick it up and save it than leave it in place and lose it.
4. Where are the witnesses? Find them, separate them and get statements early to lock them in. Get those who said they saw nothing on record should they later say something to the contrary for whatever reason or grievance they have. If the officer(s) involved are uninjured and can relate these issues, have them do so immediately.
On the other hand, do not:
1. take statements in the open where long-range parabolic mikes can overhear you or cameras can photograph/video-record you.
2. place the officer(s) in the back of a squad car. That s where the criminals sit.
3. ask why they acted. Why is for later when their counsel is with them.
4. take their weapon(s) in an unsecured area. When you do take away a firearm used in a shooting, make sure you have spare handguns to exchange. Unless an officer is incapable of handling a duty handgun due to injury or shock, they should have one. One officer told me of a shooting incident in which the involved deputy was allowed to return from a distant scene to the post with full gear intact and, incredibly, was involved in another incident on the return trip.
Understand that officers involved in a shooting will be subject to a number of stress responses that may include vomiting, involuntary urination or defecation. If you prepare your officers beforehand and let them know the truth of combat, they will likely suffer far less negative impact afterward. Even heroes puke and piss their pants.
When explaining this issue, I use good friend Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman s description to me: [L]ike a submarine must release air to rise to the surface, the body may need to focus all energy and response to fight for life. Bladder and bowel may be like air in the sub blow ballast and fight.
Important: As soon as it s feasible i.e., as soon as you can gain the above info get your officer(s) to the hospital for evaluation. If they re wounded or injured, do so immediately. If they have no visible injury or wound, do so soon because their danger may be invisible. Consider this: How many officers work with high-blood pressure? What does the stress reaction do to such an officer?
Many officers will tell you they re OK when in fact they re not. I once responded to the hospital to assist an officer/friend involved in a shooting. He s a SWAT officer, a war combat veteran and in good shape. His blood pressure was extremely high more than an hour after the incident. I asked him how he was. OK, he said. I said, B.S. He smiled wanly and said I was right.
Bottom line: Don t take an officer s word that they re OK.
Notify the spouse/family of an officer involved in a shooting as soon as possible. If the officer is conscious and stable, have them speak directly to their spouse/family. If not, do not make first contact by telephone unless you have no other way, and then do all you can to have family/clergy there for support.
First, the family member may panic and attempt to drive to the hospital and then wreck on the way. Second, it s the responsibility of the chief/sheriff/command to do this in person and offer all assistance, including a driver and vehicle and child care (or contacting other family for help).
At the Hospital
You should have previously met with the emergency-room head doctor, nurse and staff to explain what s expected of you and them. Many do not know. Meet in a non-stress time, when emotions are not high and conflicts can be discussed and a plan developed.
Know this: The emergency room likely has a bat phone, a direct-dial number you can access without having to go through the main PBX. If you have a life-or-death load and go to get a bleeding officer to the hospital, this is the number you call to ensure you have a gurney and life-support staff waiting. They may not want to give the number out, but get it, put it on your cell phone and make sure dispatch has it.
Officers transported should be accompanied at all times by a peer officer or two. The peer officer should take control of the OIS officer s weapons, body armor and personal property. The peer officer will need a gym-type bag to do so, and such bags should be stored in the trunk of the supervisor s vehicle and other cars. Bags are cheap get some.
Officers in the hospital will not ordinarily be questioned about the events. They are there for medical assistance and evaluation.
They may be medicated with a sedative. This brings down their blood pressure and allows them to sleep when they do get to their residence. Once sedated or prescribed a controlled substance, they shouldn t be subjected to any discussion of the event until the effect of the medication and stress has dissipated.
At the hospital, we have had medical intake personnel attempt to get the officer s home/family information. Under no circumstances do we do so. I had to get into a discussion at one hospital about this. They are only concerned with payment. It s a workers comp issue. I explained they will be paid by the insurance carrier.
They get only the department address. Remember, hospital computer files are not necessarily secure from prying eyes. Our security demands that we keep all personal information as close as we can.
You will have to give identifiers. Again, use only the department address and telephone number. You do not have to list family members, etc. For any emergency contact, use the chief or their designee.
Any issue with hospital response should be taken up with the on-duty hospital administrator. Every hospital must have one or a similar designation.
Remember: The learn-as-you-go method is a poor means to gain experience. Again, many problems at the emergency room will not occur if you deal with all this before an incident.
After one recent OIS involving a department in our region, the hospital didn t even do an evaluation of the officer because, I was told later, they didn t know what to do with the seemingly uninjured officer. They later realized their mistake, but it was too late.
I strongly believe a sleep cycle will greatly assist the officer in memory reconstruction. I ve worked with officers involved in deadly force events and met with them shortly after the event and in the days following, and in my assessment, their memory and ability to state the issues was much greater in the days following the incident than it was shortly after the incident.
I also recently asked a number of the officers long after their event where they stood from a memory standpoint immediately after the incident at the hospital compared to a day or more later at home or with me. All emphatically said the next day. No issue, no question.
It s clear the means to gain best information through recall is not to keep an officer sleep deprived, which has been done numerous times. One sergeant from a suburb north of Chicago told me he was awake for close to 36 hours before he gave his statement. Tell me how well you could recall anything in such conditions. Read material from Force Science, Dr. Alexis Artwohl and Grossman sleep deprivation exceeding 24 hours causes significant negative body/brain changes.
When giving information that will be permanently recorded with no second chance, officers must not be placed in an unnecessary and unreasonable disadvantage. A mistake of memory or a non-recall will later be questioned, and any additional facts described later, particularly facts that help the officer, may be perceived as contrived or self serving. We wouldn t trust a statement from an offender under the influence of alcohol or drugs why would we do so of a sleep-deprived officer?
Next month I ll discuss the interview with investigators, the response to media, the meeting with the psychologist, the effect on family and the rest of the officer s life.
Recommended Web Sites & Reading
Dr. Alexis Artwohl www.alexisartwohl.com
Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman www.killology.com
Dr. Bill Lewinski www.forcesciencenews.com
Dr. Dave Klinger www.killzonevoices.com
Jeff Chudwin serves as chief of police for the Village of Olympia Fields, Ill. A founding member and current president of the Illinois Tactical Officers Association and co-chairman of the Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System Region 4, Chudwin is a former assistant state s attorney and has been a firearms, use-of-force and emergency response trainer for more than 25 years. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.