Candid post-shooting advice from a cop who’s 'been there'
What fellow officers should be aware of when engaging, and hopefully helping, an officer involved in an OIS
The days, weeks and even years after a deadly force encounter can be extremely stressful for reasons we don’t need to explain.
One deputy, who over the course of his career had been involved in several shootings – three of them fatal – and had investigated more, felt compelled to share insider thoughts on what he felt fellow officers should be aware of when engaging, and hopefully helping, an officer involved in an OIS.
He reached out to share what he called “The Rules of Engagement” with fellow officers nationwide. Here’s what he wrote:
1. You don't know what it feels like.
Realize that taking a human life, unless you’ve done it yourself, is a matter beyond your comprehension. You don’t know what it feels like and you don’t know the fears it produces in some of us.
2. Try to understand your officer’s “new reality.”
He or she has probably just survived a brush with death or serious harm. That experience, in and of itself, can really shake one’s self-confidence and heighten a sense of vulnerability.
3. Police shootings become media events.
Department leaders would do well to vigorously and publicly support their involved officers from the start. The overwhelming majority of officer-involved fatal confrontations are lawful uses of lethal force. “Bad shootings” are often evident from the moment one arrives on the scene. Remember that cops who have made mistakes need support, too. Arguably, they need it more. The reality is, failing to support your involved officer sends a chilling message not only to that particular officer but to your whole department. To the extent you do not support your officer in his or her time of need, you stimulate the birth of some very negative events inside and outside the department, all related to fear.
Cops need to know they will get a fair shake when it’s their time in the barrel. In the worst-case scenario of a bad police shooting, little is lost by public support of the officer’s right to be a human being, recognizing – like it or not – human error occurs in every occupation. Whatever your rank or role, hanging your officer out to dry when a mistake has been made will do nothing to help your credibility, either inside or outside your department.
The fact is, tomorrow it could be you. We would all do well to remember that phrase, “But for the grace of God, go I.”
4. Unless you have walked in your officer’s shoes, don’t judge him or her.
Great unintentional harm is done by our fellow officers’ behavior toward the officer who has just killed someone in the line of duty. Treat the officer like you would hope to be treated if you were in their situation. Don’t gossip about the officer’s performance behind his back. Officers who second-guess like that are only expressing their own inner lack of self-confidence. Telling others how much better you think the situation could have been handled usually only indicates you’re struggling with your own inner fears. Other cops involved in life-threatening situations serve to remind each of us how vulnerable we are out there.
5. You can say the right thing
There are some helpful expressions of concern that can let the officer know you care. Saying things like, “You’ve been on my mind” or “I’ve been thinking about you” can go along way. Invite the officer to have coffee with you. Pick up that thousand-pound telephone and make the call.
6. We live in violent times.
We’ve been sending peace officers out into our communities to protect us for many generations. We hire them and we train them. We background check them and test their psychological fitness for law enforcement. Then we arm them and send them into harm’s way, asking them to keep us safe from people who would do unspeakable things. How we treat them after they risk everything to keep us safe is the creation of tomorrow’s policing reality. Many of our men and women in law enforcement don’t trust getting a fair shake, even from their own brethren, and this reality seeps into our system where contaminates everything it comes into contact with. Each officer in this profession, regardless of rank, has the responsibility to create and maintain that fair shake.