In my years as a police officer, I went through many different types of training for shoot/don’t shoot scenarios. At the beginning of my career, it seemed like these were handled in the classroom with dry lectures about when it was ok to shoot. As technology evolved, they introduced simulators where you fired a modified handgun with air blanks at a video screen. Those were upgraded to 360 degree simulators, and some incorporated a shocker that gave you immediate feedback when you did something wrong. Scenario based training has now become the standard, with the use of simunitions or breech blocks so you can use your own gun in training.
As training has evolved to become more and more realistic, the scenario ends where the rest of your life begins. What should you do after you’ve pulled the trigger? After that scenario ends, the instructor calls the scene safe, and everyone debriefs. But if that scenario happened in real life, that would just be the beginning of the process you are about to go through, and I’ve never seen a scenario where the agency trains their people how to handle the next 24-72 hours. More importantly, I’ve never seen a scenario where the agency trains their people how to handle the next hour. This next hour can make or break how this incident affects the rest of your life.
In an effort to boil it down, I’ve built a list of things officer should commit to memory should they ever have to use deadly force:
Make the scene safe
Public safety information
Don’t discuss details
Call a lawyer ASAP
1: Make the scene safe. Most scenario training goes all the way to the point the bad guy is in custody. In real life, that scenario is often times not over. There may be additional suspects, outstanding weapons, and in today’s age – unruly crowds. Just because you shot someone doesn’t mean you put your gun away and go on admin leave. Continue your work until the scene is safe and there are no longer any immediate concerns for your safety, the safety of others, and scene security.
2: Provide medical. This goes hand-in-hand with making the scene safe, but I extracted it to put extra emphasis. In today’s age, the lines between good-guy and bad-guy are getting blurred, and that viewpoint depends on the community. You must do everything you can to project the good-guy image, and that means you must now save the life of the person that just tried to take yours. But this is not just a PR thing – whether or not you provide medical assistance can taint someone’s view of your motivations. That someone may be the District Attorney that reviews your case.
3: Public safety information. While using deadly force in the line of duty makes you a suspect in a criminal case, your right to remain silent is tempered by the immediate safety of officers and citizens in the area. You will need to communicate “public safety information.” This includes things like: number of suspects, locations of weapons, direction of fire (yours and the suspects), suspect’s direction of travel, and any other piece of information that may affect the immediate safety of officers or citizens.
4: Don’t discuss details. Once everything is over, this will likely be the most difficult part of the next few hours. While you may rely the necessary public safety information (#3, above), do not discuss the details of the incident to anyone until you have discussed things with your attorney. Not only does it create problems for you, but is also turns everyone you talk to into a potential witness about what you told them. This includes your spouse – go ahead and tell your spouse that you were involved in a shooting and that you are ok, but do go into any more detail.
5: Call a lawyer ASAP. As soon as you can, call your attorney. Hopefully, you will belong to a legal defense group that provides an attorney you can call. The critical incident team is investigating a homicide or assault, and you are the suspect. It is critical that you receive the best legal counsel to navigate this process.
Here at Front Line Law, our attorneys are either former prosecutors or former police officers. As a police officer, I was even a member of a critical incident team that investigated officer-involved-shootings. It is our job to guide you through the critical incident investigation all the way through a clearance letter from the District Attorney. We help our police clients with understanding the process and provide the best possible legal counsel along the way.