In my thirty plus years as a police officer I have developed a mind frame that the possibility exists that one day I could be placed in a situation where I would be required to use my firearm in defense of myself or another. As much as my mind understands this possibility is in place, I know my heart will never be prepared for such an outcome.
Police officers are trained and educated in the protection of life and property. Anybody who does not live, eat, and breathe within the ever-evolving dynamics of the police environment will never comprehend what stressors are in place prior, during, and after an officer involved shooting (OIS). Ironically, once the initial confrontation is over, it truly has just begun.
An officer is most likely to overcome a near-death experience if equipped with what is known as the warrior’s mindset. This term suggests firearms training, defensive tactics, and close quarter combat training prepares an officer to kill. That is not correct. This term simply means the officer is prepared to live!
Most members of the public do not understand the stress created when officers are dispatched to a scene when one or more people have called 911 yelling and screaming in an excited manner. The callers need help. A cop is needed! Right now! In many instances, the police respond without knowing what awaits them. Then again, people have no understanding what it is like to be on patrol and to happen across a bad situation which before your very eyes is close to spiraling out of control.
Fortunately, for me, although there were times I had my gun at the ready position; I have not needed to utilize deadly physical force. What about those officers not as fortunate as I am? These are the officers who were drawn into a situation and due to the circumstances unique to the particular incident resulted in the officer(s) on scene shooting their firearm. The public does not understand that there is no satisfaction or enjoyment in taking a life. An officer is not congratulated or patted on the back for utilizing his firearm. It is overlooked by the media a police officer utilizes his weapon in one of two scenarios; the officer is defending oneself or another!
I have attended seminars over the years where officers involved in an OIS have spoken about their experiences. It was important to me to do this because all of us in law enforcement will not be involved in a deadly use of force encounter. However, as a part of management, one needs to know what possibilities await. Management has the responsibility to prepare today for what tomorrow may bring. An OIS is to be initiated to address four separate entities, which are connected as one by the incident:
1) The suspect(s)
2) The police officer(s) involved.
3) The Police Department
4) The Community
An OIS generates a host of questions which need to be answered with the cooperation of the officer. At the scene of the shooting, an officer will be asked limited questions regarding what happened. The questions are asked to determine as best as possible how the incident began as well as to determine if the crime scene itself needs to be extended. Quite possibly, two or three crime scenes may need to be set up if shots were fired at different locations. This initial questioning does not involve an official statement by the officer regarding his role. The purpose is simply fact finding. The investigators want to ensure a complete and thorough investigation is completed.
The officer will then be transported to the hospital for medical attention. Trauma is the primary concern when an OIS occurs. The officer tends to replay the incident in his mind. This occurs because police officers are not trained to kill. All officers are trained to defend themselves and others to overcome the potential use of deadly physical force. Utilizing a firearm is a defensive action! This tends to go unrecognized. Police are often considered to be the initiators of an unnecessary use of force when officers actually are the responders. This does not provide officers a license to kill. The use of force initiated must fall within the objective reasonableness guidelines of Graham v Connor for it to be justified under the law.
Once the officer leaves the hospital, he or she will be given about48 hours before an official statement of the incident is given to the investigation team. The officer will also have the right to speak with his attorney. This is very wise to ensure the facts are obtained. Some people may be of the opinion the officer is being given an opportunity to make up a story to justify the actions taken. This is not the case due to the fact the investigators have had 48 hours to conduct a crime scene, examine evidence, possibly interview people, other officers, and evaluate any surveillance and audio-video concerning the incident. More often than not the investigators have a fairly good idea of what happened. It is now the office’s turn to connect the dots which will either serve to bring the investigation to close or extend it to ensure all issues are addressed.
It is wise to permit the officer to return to the crime scene to conduct a walk-through with an attorney. The Force Science Institute (FSI) conducted research indicating that a police officer needs to sleep in order to regain memory of what happened. Prior to this, an officer may cry or even experience rage at the suspect for placing him or her in a position where he or she had to fire upon the suspect.
An officer may need to defend himself as many as five times. Aside from being found not guilty of violating department charges, an action may be sought in a criminal and civil court on both the state and federal level. When it is all said and done, the officer may still be condemned in the eyes of the media and members of the community the officer initiated action to protect. Officers protect and serve!
I have attached a video for a general overview regarding an OIS. The video is a part of the FSI News Article # 194, published in December, 2011. This video tactfully addresses the myths of wrongdoing on the part of the police by addressing the reality of an OIS.
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Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989)