According to a study cited by Law Officer Magazine, more than 80% of the population believes the average officer has been involved in at least one shooting in their career. In reality, the true number is roughly 27% of officers have EVER fired their weapon outside of the range. Without seeing the raw data, I don’t know if that covers having to put down injured animals. I know I have probably killed more deer than most hunters.
Regardless of the numbers, all law enforcement officers have to live by the adage, “Hope for the best and prepare for the worst.”
Planning for the post shooting is just as important as surviving the gunfight. Here are a few factors to consider when planning for that ultimate worst case scenario:
#1 You are a Homicide Suspect
It isn’t something you think about as a new officer. After all, aren’t you trained in firearms, taught use of force laws and given the legal authority to utilize force to protect your life or the safety of others? Yep! However taking a human life is a very serious thing and should be investigated accordingly. Regardless, the legal term for a lawful police shooting is justified homicide. After the shooting you ARE a homicide suspect. The question the investigators will have to answer is whether it was justified homicide or something else? This brings me to my second consideration:
#2 Make sure you wear underwear you wouldn’t mind a jury seeing!
I’m actually not joking. The procedures followed by a shooting investigation team will vary wildly from agency to agency and sometimes even from shooting to shooting within the same department. One of the lessons I learned during my post shooting investigation was the fact that the investigators have to be able to determine what happened independently of your statement. Part of the investigation will often come in the form of your weapons, equipment and uniform being taken as evidence and the entire process photographed.
This is an awkward and unpleasant situation where you perform a very un-sexy strip tease, being photographed throughout the process until you are standing there in your skivvies and t-shirt. All of those photos are evidence and have the potential to go before a jury, especially if the case goes to a civil trial.
We all have those favorite pairs of underwear that are super comfy, but we wouldn’t exactly want 12 strangers to see us standing in them. So when you are on Patrol, ditch the dingy gray, tighty-whiteys or the ragged rubber ducky boxers that are fraying and exhibiting holes that weren’t in the original design plans. Personally, I have sets of underwear, socks and moisture wicking t-shirts for every day of my work week. I still have the ragged boxers, but I save those for when I’m off duty.
#3 Carry a change of clothes… Including shoes in your patrol car
When you perform your evidentiary strip search, you are more than likely going to want to wear something other than your high-speed cop undies home. Don’t forget the shoes! Like department admin, detectives vary wildly in their mental rigidity and common sense. After his shooting, one of the officers in my department had a change of clothes, but didn’t have a pair of shoes. He was forced to walk barefoot across the parking lot, in the rain and get a ride home barefoot. That was a learning experience for the department and he made sure to spread the word to others.
#4 Have a Post Shooting Support Network
Most departments have adopted the “shooting buddy” policy. This is another cop in your agency of your choice who is tasked with being the liaison between you and the investigators, your department and is there to assist you however he or she can. Make sure you already know who you want your liaison to be, before you are ever faced with a use of force.
Check your department policy and collective bargaining agreement on what you can and can’t talk to your shooting buddy about. Some states and departments don’t recommend you provide your buddy with details of the incident. Others consider your shooting buddy an “agent” of your lawyer and therefore anything you tell him or her is covered under attorney client privilege.
Another aspect of the post shooting plan is to make sure you have discussed the possibility with your spouse or significant other. Making sure your family knows what to expect will go a long way towards alleviating some of the incredible stress you will undergo after being forced to utilize lethal force in the performance of your duties. This talk should also include your children. It isn’t outside the realm of reason to think your children are going to hear some kid in their class regurgitating their cop hating parents opinions.
#5 Have a stress reduction plan
This is closely related to my last post on handling stress in law enforcement. What do you enjoy doing as a stress relief? After an OIS you will be placed on administrative leave pending the conclusion of the investigation and being cleared of any criminal charges by the Prosecutor. The entire process is very stressful. Having to utilize lethal force is also extremely stressful, regardless of the end result. It is critical to make sure you are managing that stress in a healthy manner. Again, exercise is the going to be the best way to mitigate the stress, but feel free to do whatever works for you. Try to utilize your administrative leave as an opportunity to take care of yourself. How many of us really place yourself first? Especially those who are married with children.
Hopefully this has given a bit of food for thought! Remember if you do nothing else… Don’t forget to wear your work undies! Please give a like and share if you found anything interesting, entertaining or helpful!
Also published on Medium.