There is no single event that can traumatize a police agency and affect a community more than an officer involved shooting. The criticism and intense scrutiny generated by the media, community activists, the general public, and the criminal justice system itself, can be enormous. Civil litigation can take years to resolve, such cases can debilitate a police organization for years, have an adverse effect on employee morale, and hamper agency effectiveness through the erosion of public opinion. It’s imperative that every police department and individual officer prepare for this inevitable eventuality.
Officer involved shootings are vastly different from any other type of homicide investigation. The stakes for the shooting officer and his department are extremely high.
Sweeping legislative changes in Illinois that took effect in 2019, require that OIS investigations be conducted by an independent group. The Lake County Major Crimes Task Force was tasked with OIS investigations from its inception and continues to do so for member communities in Lake County, Illinois.
An OIS investigation is focused on unbiased fact finding. The completed investigation is then turned over to the States Attorney for review. As required by law, the State Attorney is mandated to provide public access of the investigation and their findings.
As of August 25, 2017, Illinois law enforcement agencies are required to adopt drug and alcohol testing policies for officer involved shootings. Specifically, 50 ILCS 727/1-25 provides an unfunded mandate requiring each agency to develop a written policy for any discharge of an officer’s firearm that causes injury or death.
The law provides that the written policy must require that (1) the officer must submit to drug and alcohol testing and (2) that the testing must be performed on the same shift as the incident. This new section was added to the Police and Community Relations Improvement Act.
This new law leaves open the question of what “drugs” are included in the testing. The law also does not address the penalties or negative inferences that may be drawn when departments fail to implement and follow such post-incident policies.
Having been involved in a number of these investigations during my tenure with the Task Force I began to notice a pattern of legal representation offered officers involved in shootings. The legal representation provided in most cases by Unions, went from extremely good professional representation to incompetent, and inexperienced.
I’ll refrain from mentioning the names behind some of the legal advice I witnessed that was going down the path of disaster. One such incident bordered on collusion when a “Union Attorney” held a spontaneous meeting with officers that were directly involved with the situation informing them not to cooperate with investigators. To the officer’s credit they ignored this advice and assisted our team with required public safety information to at least get the investigation moving.
I would strongly recommend to anyone involved in a shooting: have private legal council available. There are law firms and organizations that offer services to police officers for a nominal annual fee. A few hundred dollars a year could save you a lifetime of misery.