What Managers Should Know About Officer Involved Shootings

A psychologist's View
 Dr. Saxe-Clifford

   I.   The Manager's Role:

The Chief or Manager's response is very important to the officer's psychological well being.  The officer may be vulnerable, self-doubting, worried, emotional or in denial.  The officer needs a high level of reassurance as soon as possible and repeatedly as warranted.

1.  Guidelines to consider: 

• Have a clear policy up front.
• Don't assume the officer knows or remembers the policy.
• This may be he first shooting incident under the command of a new chief, captain, or lieutenant.
• Shooting incidents are always different and unique, don't make assumptions.
• Chiefs have different personalities and different skills, be yourself.

2.  Misunderstanding is the rule:

• Small gestures or comments can become major concerns.
• Officers have “selective” hearing.
• Old relationships can come to the forefront and add a dimension to the situation you may not be aware of.
• An officer's behavior may seem out of character due to stress.

3. Use your own style:

• It is best to speak to the officer in person.
• The second best approach is on the phone.
• If the above options are not possible, have someone else talk to the officer and report immediately back to you.

4. Important areas to cover:

• Reassure the officer.
• Explain procedure in detail.  You won't bore them.
• Explain time table.  If not clear, say so.
• Don't assume you know the right story or the whole story immediately after the incident.  Information is often reported incorrectly by the watch commander or at the scene.
• Don't assume they are taken care of:

Are they warm?

Do they want water?

Are they in need of a bathroom?

Do they know the condition of their partner or suspects?

· Notify the officer's family if possible.

· Ask the officer and the officer's family what they need.

· Share information as developed.

· If you can't share information, tell them why.

· Choose your words carefully.  If vague or ambiguous, an officer could take it the wrong way.

II.  Psychologist's Role:

  Mandatory Referral:

A. Call the psychologist to inform her/him of the incident (at any hour should the situation warrant immediate consultation, otherwise first thing in the morning would be sufficient).  The psychologist will:

· respond
· assess
· talk to the officer

B. The officer should have the option of immediate care.  However, the officer is usually busy and tired.  Immediate care is usually not necessary.  More importantly:

· Resolve business at the scene and the station.
· Let the officer get family support.
· Let the officer get sleep.
· Have the officer phone the psychologist when he or she gets up.

C.  Consultation is recommended within 48 hours, before the officer returns to duty.  Some flexibility is desirable.  However, if for example, an officer takes off on vacation for ten days, he or she may feel they no longer need consultation, when in fact problems may escalate over that ten day period.

D.  What happens when the officer comes in for consultation:

• The officer is made comfortable.
• The nature of the referral and confidentiality issues are reviewed.
• The officer will sign a waiver allowing the psychologist to let the department know when the officer is ready to return to work.
• The officer is told about the normal range of emotional responses and the unpredictability of responses.
• The officer reviews the incident with questions and feedback from the psychologist.
• The officer reviews the incidents and feelings since the shooting occurred.
• Discussion covers all relevant issues.
• Suggestions for follow-up and return to work are made.
• The department is informed verbally.
• The department is informed in writing.

  E. The following is a sample of written feedback provided to the Chief:

  Officer Jane Smith was counseled on Tuesday, September 15, 1999, regarding his involvement in an on-duty incident.

Officer Smith was open in discussing the incident and her feelings related to the incident.  She appears to be ready to return to duty at this time.  Officer Smith was encouraged to call for additional counseling should the need arise.

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