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How police leaders can provide psychological support after an OIS

Law enforcement officers involved in a recent shooting require support from the top to process potential trauma

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As a chief, you have the opportunity to set up a process to provide support to your personnel.

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This article originally appeared in the June 2021 Police1 Leadership Briefing. To read the full briefing, visit Post-OIS support | Boosting morale | Fitness maintenance, and add the Leadership Briefing to your subscriptions.

Officer-involved shootings (OISs) stand amongst the most stressful experiences in the law enforcement profession, so as a chief it is important to help provide strong support for involved personnel following such events.

Many agencies find that it is beneficial for involved officers to meet with a licensed and culturally competent psychologist shortly after an OIS to receive confidential support and professional guidance to help manage the stressors, emotions and pressures so often experienced following such events. As a chief, it is important to be proactive in establishing how to best support your personnel following OISs.

Based upon years of experience with many law enforcement agencies, some important considerations when establishing the procedures for providing psychological support following OISs include:

1. Choose the right professional

Ensure that a culturally competent law enforcement psychologist is utilized. Sending your people to someone who does not understand and appreciate the profession can do more harm than good.

2. Keep support distinct from “fitness” evaluations

Keep the OIS support process separate and distinct from any fitness-for-duty evaluation (FFDE) process. The IACP guidelines for FFDEs establish the threshold for psychological determination of officer fitness, and it is important to note that being involved in an OIS does not constitute sufficient basis for mandating such an evaluation. To avoid unnecessary confusion, avoid using the term “fitness” in OIS support policy or when scheduling wellness support sessions for your personnel.

3. Consider the benefits of 1:1 CISDs

Treating the support provided for officers following OISs as 1:1 critical incident stress debriefings (CISDs) has several advantages, including:

  • Priority scheduling is often set aside for CISDs
  • CISDs typically do not include written reporting, and
  • The 1:1 approach overcomes key concerns sometimes associated with group CISDs (e.g., confidentiality, emotional contagion and the opportunity for the psychologist to focus entirely on one individual at a time).

Additionally, experience has shown that a large majority of officers report satisfaction with this type of support following OISs, even when attendance is mandated.

Support your personnel

Providing strong support following OISs can make all the difference for officers, their agencies and the communities they serve. Fortunately, as a chief you have the opportunity to set up a process to provide such support to your personnel. Additionally, consider providing your personnel with an overview of effective strategies for caring for oneself following critical incidents.

NEXT: Initial response to an officer-involved shooting: A checklist for supervisors

Dr. David Black is the founder and president of Cordico, which provides first-responding agencies with essential policy insights, training programs and timely content focused on mental and emotional wellbeing. Cordico was acquired by Lexipol in November 2020. He is the chief psychologist of the California Police Chiefs Association Wellness Committee, a board member of the National Sheriffs Association Psychological Services Group and an advisory board member for the National Police Foundation’s Center for Mass Violence Response Studies. He serves on the IACP Police Psychological Services Ethics Committee and the National Fraternal Order of Police Officer Wellness Committee, and is an officer wellness subject matter expert for the California Commission on POST. Dr. Black has been serving law enforcement since 2002.