Being involved in an officer-involved shooting or another major force event can obviously have a psychological impact on the officers involved. Good investigators know that and accommodate for it. Effectively dealing with the emotional consequences of a critical incident can help reach two critical investigatory goals:
1. Maximize the accuracy of the investigation.
2. Minimize further traumatization to the officers and their families.
Every situation is unique and your decisions relative to the following suggestions will have to respond to the circumstances of the event and the requirements of your agency. Some of the following may not be your direct responsibility but it would be helpful if you could facilitate them if you see they’re not happening.
1. When you first contact officers, let them know what to expect. Tell them what the procedures are and what will be happening from that point on. Don’t make any assumptions about their prior knowledge of post-shooting procedures.
2. Ask if arrangements have been made to contact the family. If not, make that happen.
3. If your agency has officer and family peer support teams, find out if they’ve been contacted. If not, help facilitate that.
4. If you must confiscate the officer’s weapon at the scene, make sure they get an exact replacement right away. If there’s a delay, let them know when they can expect their replacement.
5. Remember that non-shooting officers involved in the incident may be just as traumatized as the shooters. Supervisors and command staff who may have been at the scene aren’t immune either. Expect a wide range of emotions and provide appropriate support as necessary.
6. Provide transportation. Officers involved in a shooting should not have to drive themselves anywhere immediately following the event. The same may be true of family members. Enlist drivers to help get officers and their families to and from the scene, the stationhouse, and home.
7. Some officers may find it helpful to exercise before being interviewed or going home to help burn off stress chemicals and excess energy. If possible, help facilitate that.
8. Make sure officers are provided the opportunity to shower and change clothes before being interviewed if it’s required that they be interviewed right after the incident.
9. Officer interviews should take place in a comfortable room like a conference room. Avoid interviewing them in rooms used for interviewing suspects.
10. Avoid isolation. To the extent that it’s appropriate, allow officers access to family, friends and support personnel.
11. If you’re required to interview an officer right after a shooting, remember that it may be hard for them to sit still due to excess energy generated from their recent adrenaline surge. Don’t stuff them in a room for long periods of time. Allow them to stand, walk, pace, etc.
12. Facilitate having appropriate beverages and food available to the officers and any family members who may be present. Easy-to-digest food is best (low fat, not spicy, not too much sugar). Have a variety of beverages available, included non-caffeinated drinks. Don’t make coffee their only option.
13. After a shooting, there will likely be a convergence of many people at the scene and the location where the interviews will occur. The sheer number of people may be overwhelming to some officers. Actively monitor officers’ reactions and allow them appropriate leeway in deciding who has access to them at any given point. It’s helpful to have a “quiet room” available where they can retreat if necessary to gain temporary respite from the commotion.
14. Sometimes people with different post-shooting investigation roles and responsibilities can come into conflict during the process. When this happens in the presence of the involved officers and/or their family members, it can be disturbing, if not destructive. When disagreements arise, resolve them quickly. Later, make sure those involved in the dispute figure out how to resolve the issue long-term so they can avoid having that conflict again, particularly in front of those who might be vulnerable.
15. Remember that officers’ reactions can vary widely in the hours following a shooting. Stay alert to this and pace your interview accordingly.
Interviewing fellow officers who have been involved in a critical incident can be one of the toughest things an investigator needs to do, and that can take an emotional toll on you. Acknowledge that and don’t hesitate to take advantage of support options yourself.