Surviving the Aftermath

Although rare in occurrence, approximately 400 suspects are killed by police officers each year. Unfortunately, most agencies and most officers are ill-prepared to handle an officer-involved shooting. Prepare in advance by learning about your rights...


Whether an agency reads you your Miranda rights or not is up to them. Miranda rights are for custodial interrogations, and if an officer is free to go and not compelled to stay, then Miranda is not required. Some agencies even have officers sign waivers, stating that they are making the statements of their own volition. Many officers do not understand the Garrity rule and how it works, and make statements such as, "I invoked my Garrity rights." What they are referring to is actually "use immunity." In order for an officer to obtain use immunity from any statements they make, they must first be given their Miranda rights and invoke their right to remain silent. The officer only receives Garrity use immunity protection if they are then compelled to make a statement under threat of discipline, up to and including termination. This two-pronged process is the way officers receive protection from their statements being used against them in a criminal case. Note: Statements can still be used against officers internally and in subsequent civil suits. This is not legal advice; please check with an attorney that is well versed in Garrity. It has been my experience that many police union officials, prosecutors, investigators and attorneys do not have an understanding of Garrity.

The best plan of action is to never submit to an interview without your attorney present to safeguard your rights and interests. Many officers have hurt themselves by trusting that their rights were being protected, only to be caught up in a subsequent political whirlwind that turned against them. Have a knowledgeable attorney in your corner to be your advocate in the process. To proceed without one is to act foolishly. As someone who has experienced this firsthand, let me relate how stressful it is going from the "investigator" to the "investigated."

Post-Event Actions

Many sound pieces of advice exist as to your post-incident actions, from not drinking alcohol or caffeine after an incident to engaging in exercise to help burn off the stress chemicals. How will you react to a shooting? Well, it depends on the support structures you already have in place and how you work through the process. Having healthy mechanisms in place for dealing and overcoming stress is an important part of a positive law enforcement lifestyle. If you tend toward withdrawal from family and friends, or use alcohol to deal with life's problems, your stress may be magnified. It certainly will not be dealt with effectively. Dr. Alexis Artwohl has, based on research, dispelled the myth that most officers that have been involved in a shooting leave law enforcement. It is quite the contrary, but there have been some incidents where our brothers and sisters have had to go through a post event living hell. Acknowledging that you are not the man (or woman) of steel, and that if the need arises, you will seek out professional help is the smart way to play. Part of that smart play is attending a critical incident stress debriefing. Although CISD has gotten some undeserved bad press, I have attended numerous debriefs as well as CISD peer training. To a man and woman, I have never heard any complaints, but rather high praise for the debriefs. In one debrief after an incident in which two officers had been shot and a suspect killed, officers never had the full picture of what happened until they heard their brothers talk for the first time. A word of caution here: get a professional debrief. Do not attend a "choir practice session" to debrief the incident. No positive results can come from such activities.

Do expect some mental replay of the event for a few days. I've told numerous officers that this is normal. When I told one officer of the VCR stuck on replay, he said, "KD, it was just like you said. I had a good night's sleep, but the minute I awoke the mental VCR started again."

Back to Work?

When will you be ready? Unfortunately, some administrators think there's a set timetable. Once again, how you will react is based, in my experience, on what other stressors you are living through at the time, your coping skills and the work that you do based on professional assistance. I will defer to Dr. Artwohl on this one when she says that, "You should go back to work when you're ready for the exact same thing to happen to you inside the first five minutes of your first shift."

Conclusion

I pray that you never need to implement the foregoing advice, but if you are faced with a deadly threat or perceive that your life or that of another is in danger, you act decisively and stop the aggressor. I hope that if you do, you are blessed with a sure hand and accurate fire based on your training. But understand that after the gunshot echoes have died and the suspects stopped and secured, there is additional survival work that requires your diligence and attention. You've survived physically; now survive legally, emotionally, psychologically at work and at home. You can do it and you must do it. You are a member of the thin blue line; now make the line stronger by preparing even more!

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