Officer-involved shootings can occur at any time, day or night. It is unknown if the shelter at home order currently in place in many cities will curtail or escalate officer-involved shootings. Current thinking is that confinement may lead to an increase in domestic-related calls, which is one of the more unpredictable situations an officer must face.
Typically, after an officer-involved shooting, there will be a congregation of a dozen or so officers and detectives at the scene, and at least that many or more down at detective division. The following suggested protocol is designed to streamline the post-shooting activities of the involved officer and those attending to him or her, and hopefully, reduce the exposure hazard posed by COVID-19.
Police departments across the country have gone to great lengths recently to promote social distancing whenever it is possible, including doing away with daily squad meetings and keeping foot traffic in all divisions to a minimum. This suggested protocol is offered in the spirit of this effort to promote the wellness of all officers as they go about the business of keeping the public safe and enforcing the law.
1. If you are involved in a shooting and the scene is no longer active, and dispatch and your chain of command has been advised, I suggest the following:
- The involved officer should put a mask on and glove up as soon as possible.
- All others responding to the scene are also encouraged to put a mask on and glove up. Numerous medical studies have shown that stress makes one more susceptible to disease and infections, in part due to the chemicals released by the body during a critical incident.
- The involved officer can go to their patrol car if it is not a part of the crime scene. If it is not possible, go to another patrol or supervisor’s car, which has been sanitized and/or has not had any prisoners in it recently. Another responding officer should go with the officer and can either get in (with mask and gloves) or stand by outside the patrol car, to ensure the integrity of the chain of custody for the involved officer’s gun and body-worn camera. The involved officer can respond to preliminary questions and communicate with his/her chain of command from the patrol car and also communicate by cellphone.
- Involved officer: If you have disinfectant wipes with you, clean the outside of your body-worn camera. Besides your radio, it is probably the most touched tool you carry.
- Involved officer or other officer on scene: Call your Union representative or competent attorney who practices police use of force. Do this even though policy requires the Union be notified because sometimes notice from the department to the Union is delayed or forgotten because of the occasional chaos which follows an officer-involved shooting.
2. The ranking on-duty member of the involved officer’s squad should make sure that dispatch has made all of the appropriate notices, including notifying the Union and the Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT).
3. Involved officer: If you opt to have legal representation, you can communicate with your attorney electronically. He will send a “Salinas Form” electronically to the investigating detective indicating you presently want to exercise your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, and also send the detective a request for preservation of your body-worn camera recording to be preserved in its native format.
4. Once the involved officer is transported to detective division an effort should be made to keep social distancing in effect as much as possible. All officers are strongly encouraged to wear a mask. Only officers with a legitimate assignment should respond. Others on duty and/or concerned officers can lend their emotional support to the involved officer electronically without discussing or asking about any facts surrounding the shooting.
5. A member of CIRT will contact the involved officer to ensure all of his/her personal needs are being met, and to discuss what the officer can expect during the process of the investigation, and explain the vast array of emotions the officer may experience in the days and weeks following the shooting. Even though both the lawyer and the CIRT member want to be with the involved officer to offer support and comfort to the officer, words alone will have to suffice until the pandemic is over. The CIRT member will remain in contact with the involved officer to monitor his/her well-being. The attorney will also remain in contact daily until the investigation is completed.
6. The standard advice following an officer-involved shooting is to take care of the involved officer’s personal needs first and recommends the details of the shooting be discussed a few days later after adequate sleep cycles have taken place and memory consolidation occurs. It would be a rare occasion for the involved officer to be asked to recount the details in the hours after the shooting.
7. During the pandemic, a formal interview which would require the meeting of the involved officer, his/her attorney, and a detective all in one place is not advisable, due to the risks of transmission of the COVID-19 Virus. A safer and more practical solution is for the officer to prepare and submit a narrative declaration regarding the facts of the shooting. The narrative will also include the details of the officer’s training, length of time on the job, his/her weapon and ammunition, etc. Following the submission of the narrative declaration, if the detective has any follow up questions or wants clarification on anything, a brief three-way telephone interview can be arranged with an officer, his attorney and the detective.
8. The policy of many police departments allows for review of the digital dashcam or body-worn camera evidence before the involved officer prepares a report or makes a statement. Such a review can be arranged by any number of digital formats that would allow the officer and his/her attorney to review the recording on their own home computers/devices. The officer and his/her attorney should be ready to sign or agree to a non-disclosure agreement, so as to ensure there is no unauthorized release of the recording.