In spite of the near constant media coverage of officer involved shootings, they are so rare that most officers have no idea what is going to happen when they find themselves in those situations. As of October 1, 2016, there has only been one officer involved shooting in New Orleans. I am hoping this trend of not having officer involved shootings continues. If, however, an officer is involved in an officer involved shooting, he or she should know what to expect. For the most part, this article is particularly about New Orleans, but there are bound to be similarities to other jurisdictions.
First of all, I recommend that once it is safe to do so that you call your FOP attorney. I have been on the scene of almost every officer involved shooting in the past several years, and I will continue to respond in an officer’s time of need.
Every officer involved in an officer involved shooting is the subject of a criminal investigation. There could also be an administrative investigation, depending on the circumstances.
It is most important that an officer make sure a scene is safe, or as safe as possible, following an officer involved shooting. Make sure enough backup has been requested and the proper notifications have been made. If the scene is not safe, take cover or do whatever is necessary to make the scene as safe as possible. Make sure emergency medical services have been ordered for anyone injured and the scene is safe enough for EMS to respond.
Once enough officers have arrived to secure the scene, any officers involved in actually firing a weapon will be sequestered. That means that if you are the officer who had to pull the trigger, you will be removed from active participation in the scene and put in an area by yourself. That usually means sitting in a car by yourself in a safe location.
IT IS VERY IMPORTANT that you are aware of your body-worn camera. It should be turned off as soon as you are removed from active participation in the scene. You also need supervisory approval to turn off the camera. So, as soon as you are sequestered, ask a supervisor for permission to turn off the body-worn camera. Also, be aware of what you say when the camera is running. While you certainly want to tell other responding officers of any imminent danger or about evidence which might be lost or damaged, you do not want to discuss how the shooting came to be at this point in time. I have witnessed well-meaning rank asking officers “what happened” while the camera was recording. It just isn’t in anyone’s best interest to answer that question on video in the middle of a stressful situation before all of the information is available.
It is my experience that I usually get to a scene shortly after an officer has been sequestered. I have gotten there before cameras were turned off though and you certainly don’t want to have privileged conversations with your attorney being recorded on a body-worn camera. Same thing for dash camera.
One of the first things to do is call your family members and let them know you are safe. There will undoubtedly be some type of media coverage and you don’t want your loved ones worrying about your safety.
After being involved in an officer involved shooting, you generally have to do three things:
- Give a public safety statement;
- Walthrough; and
- Complete a Force Statement
The public safety statement will take place shortly after the officer is sequestered. The short interview will be conducted by the PIB Force Investigation Team (FIT). There will likely be a a number of other people present, but only one will ask questions. The questions are limited to issues which have the potential for impacting the safety of police personnel or the public and information about evidence.
For example, a public safety statement could include the questions
- “How many perpetrators were there?”
- “Where did the other perpetrator run?”
- “Did the other perpetrator have a weapon?”
- “What was the other perpetrator’s description?”
- “Where should there be shell casings?”
The public safety statement generally takes less than 5 minutes.
PIB will take your body-worn camera and the Academy will take the weapon used. If they take your service weapon, they will issue you a loaner.
You will also be expected to do a “walk-through” of the incident. It is a strange thing and I’m not quite sure what the purpose is. You will be be required to walk through the events leading to the shooting without any verbal narrative. You won’t be asked any questions or expected to say anything. I guess I have seen this lead to information relative to the location of shell casings and the preservation of evidence.
You are also required to complete a Force Statement. I don’t want to get into the nuts and bolts of the Force Statement here, but I have found that the time sitting around sequestered is generally a good time to get the Force Statement written. It gives you an opportunity to write it and discuss with your attorney prior to submitting the Force Statement.
The Force Statement is an administrative document only. It is not shared with the criminal investigators. It is important to be accurate and thorough with the Force Statement.
Generally, that is about it. Officers who are involved in a fatal officer involved shooting will likely be placed on administrative reassignment and sent home. You get to spend an ample amount of time by yourself. This isn’t always the best thing as it leaves you to replay the events in your mind while wondering what is going on around you.
It is good to have your FOP attorney with you for a number of reasons. It is important to get the necessary information conveyed and to make sure your rights are protected. It is also helpful to have someone who can tell you who everyone is and what they are doing.
I hope it doesn’t happen to you. But, if it does, I will be available for you.