By Terry Baxter, Law Enforcement and Safety Specialist
When you accept the responsibilities of becoming a law enforcement officer, there are many tragic events you will experience throughout your career, but I would think the most traumatic event you could ever encounter would being involved in an Officer-Involved Shooting (OIS).
Throughout my 30-year law enforcement career, I never had to fire my service weapon in the line of duty, I came close a few times, but my only exposure to Officer-Involved Shooting (OIS) involved being part of two separate post shooting investigations. One involved a Missouri Valley Police Officer and the other involved an Onawa Police Officer, both shootings resulted in fatal injuries to the suspects and both officers were justified in the use of deadly force.
Since becoming a part of NIRMA, I have experienced several more Officer-Involved Shootings that have occurred in our member counties, but this time my exposure relates to the risk management and loss prevention impact.
Something I came to realize from my own personal experience was that not only is the initial investigation critical, but also the health and well-being of the officer(s) involved. I know the immediate focus will gravitate toward the officer who pulled the trigger, rightfully so, but we cannot forget the impact it will have on the families as well as other officer(s). The one thing an agency can do, is make it very clear that you value the officer(s) involved and understand how difficult of time this is for them.
When a deadly force incident occurs, the aftermath and events that follow can form a series of unsettling events for all those involved. Not only from the incident itself, but the investigation, being placed on administrative leave, releasing the names of the officer(s) to the public, the media coverage and don’t forget the Grand Jury.
Policy and training are essential when addressing officer involved critical events, making sure those involved understand the effects it will have on them personally, professionally, and especially through the legal process. Policy and training better prepare officers on how to respond and what is to be expected.
Some agencies provide legal representation to those officer(s) involved, but many of the smaller agencies do not and their resources are limited.
A stressful and confusing time for officer(s) is during the investigative process, as most worry about the legal and administrative ramifications. They simply want to know as soon as possible, the details and outcome of the shooting, but critical investigations take time which heightening the emotional stress on everyone.
When it comes to Officer-Involved Shootings, I have always been on the outside looking in, and my experience recreated the encounter and actions that followed. I personally don’t’ know what the officer was experiencing emotionally, oh I could see the look of concern, but I do know if the officer felt the need to use deadly force, they may have just survived a close call with death. That alone would have a significant impact to their emotions, not to mention everything else going through their minds.
In this line of work you already know things can change at the drop of a hat. How agencies respond to critical events will determine success or failure but remember agency response will also have a significant impact on the officer(s) involved as well as the officer’s well-being.