Wednesday, November 26, 2008


While paying attention to the local news, it seems that many officers are involved in circumstances that lead to investigations or medical assistance. Lately, traffic officers on motorcycles have been struck by passing motorists, some resulting in death. Additionally, there are more stories on the local news involving shootings, in which a police officer was involved.

The latest officer involved shooting occurred in Rancho Cordova at a gas station. There was an argument inside the gas station between a male and female. The argument escalated to the point the clerk felt it was necessary to call the police. An officer arrived on scene and began talking to both parties. Soon thereafter, the male pulled out a handgun and shot towards the officer. The officer was able to find cover, returning fire and fatally wounding the male. The officer is now on administrative leave. The issue of crossfire and officer safety arises from this incident.

The location of the incident is one where many citizens can be expected to visit throughout their day. Fortunately, in this situation there were no innocent victims of crossfire. It is essential that an officer remembers to plan ahead for a situation where they would have to use their firearm. When contacting someone, or making a traffic stop, an officer should plan ahead to be in a position of cover. The cover allows the officer to use it to their advantage if the person they are contacting decides to shoot at them. Additionally, the position the officer is in is also essential to prevent any victims from crossfire. For instance, if one has planned for a possible shooting, they should look beyond the suspect to make sure there are not any uninvolved parties that may be struck by a bullet. In the above incident, if the officer was standing in front of the store, they should have planned ahead to move to a position where the possibility of a bullet going through the glass and striking a customer would be removed. Law enforcement is a unique occupation where situational circumstances change every second. Young men and women planning to enter the field of law enforcement should prepare themselves mentally to handle these situations in a professional manner, while maintaining public safety.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Officer Safety

The tough economic times of today are cause for many problems occurring in American households. People are loosing their jobs and are resorting to government assistance to help with finances. Some are cutting back on expenses by turning off the phone bill, cable, and conserving costly energy. One may ask what the connection is between a financial crisis and officer shootings.

A husband and wife were in an argument and police were called to respond. The argument ensued because the wife turned off the internet connection to the house and the husband was outraged over the incident. The argument escalated to the point where items were thrown around the house, which led to officers responding to the domestic disturbance. Officer Madrigal from the California Highway Patrol was shot in the right knee when he responded to the call for service. Officer Madrigal is reported to be in serious condition.

Unfortunately, the tough economic times have led to disturbances in households. Emotions and stress over financial responsibilities are rising causing many people to act unnaturally. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, the leading cause of death in the past ten years has resulted from gun shot wounds. As an officer, one must continue to be cognizant of proper officer safety. When responding to a disturbance call, or while making a routine traffic stop, one must be aware to take steps for proper officer safety. Officer Madrigal entered an unfortunate situation where the suspect had positioned firearms near every window in anticipation for officers to arrive. I am sure Officer Madrigal was practicing proper safety, but this situation goes to show that one must never become tranquil in regards to officer safety. The key point as a young, or veteran, officer is to plan for the worst and hope for the best.

Monday, November 10, 2008

De-Briefing of a Traumatic Event

Previously, I have briefly touched on the emotional impact of officer-involved shootings. Recently, I experienced an event that led me to re-engage on emotional impacts from shootings. While speaking to an officer, he reflected on an incident in his career that seemed to have a big burden on him. The incident involved the shooting of an officer, but he was not involved with it other than the investigation that took place soon after. The officer’s emotions were clearly reflected through his voice, body language, and facial expressions. Later, I realized that he never de-briefed this situation, and it has been with him throughout his career. The emotional impact from the shooting showed signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

PTSD is encountered when on is engaged in an incident that is, or is capable of causing great bodily injury or death. Police officers encounter stressful situations on a daily basis. Although it is not a daily occurrence to be in a gunfight, other situations may affect the officers’ emotional state. Dr. George Everly provides the following, at any time 15-32% of all emergency responders will deal with a reaction to PTSD, and this average is higher than that of Vietnam Veterans. De-briefings are recommended for officers to limit the impact of PTSD.

A concern with the culture of law enforcement is that one shows weakness if they express their feelings about any given situation. With traumatic events, however, the expression of one’s feelings is necessary to prevent PTSD. The Mental Health of America website explains that many people suffering from PTSD begin to live a passive lifestyle, and their relationships become weak. A de-briefing of an event will allow the involved parties to realize the symptoms that may occur, and are encouraged to take an active role in life. Some recommendations include exercise, connecting with family and friends, and not watching too much television. In all, if you or someone you know has experienced a traumatic event, like the officer I spoke with, the best thing to do is help them recognize the symptoms by talking to them about the event. Recognition will allow them to control the symptoms. Additionally, comfort them by informing them that they are not the only person whom may have experienced the PTSD from the incident, and they can take control.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Cop or Criminal?

Aiming for a career in law enforcement has inspired a lot of interest in this field. Specifically, shootings are an area that I hope to never encounter throughout my career, but in fact may. While speaking to current police officers, I always ask if they have any experience with officer involved shootings. Most say that they have never been put in that situation, but there are many whom always share a similar thought. The notion they share is that the events occurring after the shooting are more stressful than the shooting itself, or so the say. How then are police officers handled after they are involved in an officer involved shooting?

An article about a female police officer in the Santa Fe Police Department depicts exactly what occurred after a probationary officer was involved in a shooting. The officer responded to a call where a male subject was in possession of a knife, and just finished stabbing his girlfriend. The officers encounter the male, he then lunges towards the officer with the knife, at which point the officer shot and killed the male. The officer remained outdoors in the cold for over five hours, and the request for a jacket had to be cleared through the chain of command. The officer was transferred to the station for a bathroom break, but was put in the back seat of the patrol car. She then had to surrender her gun. As the officer finally went home, she had not spoken to anyone about the incident for nearly twenty-four hours until her interview, which consisted of two hours of interrogation.

As a future leader in law enforcement, I take into account this incident and determine what can be changed. First, I would allow the officer involved to be sent to the station, or allowed to go home. This allows the officer to vent with any emotional stir-ups they may have. I will provide a voluntary session with a psychologist so the officer may express themselves and be mentally fit for the job. Altogether, I will not make the officer feel like a criminal. Having to go up the chain of command for a jacket is absurd. Transporting the officer in the back of a patrol car is beyond belief, all that is left is to handcuff the officer and they will feel like a criminal. As a manager/administrator, my main focus would be to make the officer as comfortable as possible so they may have a clear mind in recalling the events that occurred.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Is Post Traumatic Stress Related to Shootings?

Besides the officer dealing with the dilemma of a shooting, there is emotional and psychological damage the officer will encounter. The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) Psychological Services Section produced recommended guidelines for officer involved shootings. The report produces recommended agency guidelines for policy and procedure. Additionally, a section is dedicated to recommendations for post-shooting interventions administered by a mental health professional. The IACP recommends the intervention take place approximately a week after the shooting. In perspective, the officer is dealing with administrative leave, an internal and external investigation, and not to mention shooting at another person.

No wonder the officers have to meet with a mental health professional. First, the officer has just finished being involved in a high traumatic situation. Moreover, the officer involved has to deal with the scrutiny from the public and the District Attorney’s Office to ensure the shooting was within departmental policy, and justified. Naturally, the officer will face high stress levels during this period. The recommendation of an intervention by a mental health professional is essential for emotional survival. High-ranking officers in management of police departments should take into account the recommendation for mental health interventions. Enough research has been done to recognize that officers face mental, and emotional, post-shooting trauma to ensure that police departments take action. In past years, it was common for officers to be placed on administrative leave. However, dealing with such a unique occupation has pushed for research of the effects of officer involved shootings.

Today, departmental leaders are informed of the stress officers encounter. The information provided is pertinent to ensure that an officer is psychologically capable to continue his job. Now that this data has become available, hopefully, police departments are introducing this information to cadets in the academy. The early intervention may allow potential officers to find a comfort zone if they are put in such a situation.

Monday, September 29, 2008


As an officer begins their basic training, they become aware of how and when to use their firearm. By the completion of the academy, an officer will have enough repetition to be able to recognize a justified shooting. Many situations have occurred where people involved feel that the officer’s actions were not justified. Dallas Police Department recently had an officer involved shooting, in which the family members of the victim suspect, felt the shooting was unjustified. According to a news bulletin, posted on September 23, 2008, a Dallas Police Officer shot and killed a man whom was stopped after a traffic collision. Officials for the Police Department state the victim attacked the officer by continuously hitting him in the head with a closed fist. The Department continued by stating that the victim was 6’4” and 240 pounds.

The threat of serious bodily injury to the officer may have justified using his firearm. However, eyewitnesses to the incident state the victim was not near the officer at the time of the shooting. In fact, the family members (witnesses) hired an attorney to pursue assistance in this tragic moment. This situation develops the notion that perhaps officers need further training in officer involved shootings. If the family members are correct in their statements, that the victim was nowhere near the officer, then the victim would have been subject to an unjustified shooting. The department is forwarding the investigation to the grand jury, and is conducting an internal investigation. This situation poses the question whether officers are receiving proper training in officer involved shootings. The public may not make an informed decision as to the shooting being justified. Of course, the family members of the victim will say the shooting is unjustified, and the Department will say otherwise. The public will not know until an investigation is conducted by a third, uninvolved party.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Ill Effects of Guns

As the day begins, a police officer wakes up to start another day at work. The police officer does not know that this will be the last time he will work as a police officer. On September 6, 2008, Martinez Police Department lost a Sergeant whom was killed on duty. Sergeant Starzyk, along with being a police officer, was a husband, father, son, and friend to many people. While responding to a call of domestic violence, Sergeant Starzyk was hit with bullets coming from the suspect. The Sergeant was fatally wounded along with the suspect, who took fire from other officers.

Domestic violence situations are unpredictable and make them dangerous. Recently, I read about the Nation’s efforts on gun control. Legislation has been passed to limit the amount of guns in circulation, and intervene from guns being in the possession of the wrong people. Availability of guns causes police officers to be in high danger. Would stricter gun control have prevented the death of Sergeant Starzyk? The suspect in the involved situation killed the Sergeant along with another female. Did the suspect legally possess his firearm that became the cause of the death of two people in the City of Martinez? Perhaps the gunman had retained his weapon illegally. Could the government have intervened further to prevent this situation from occurring? The United States has strict gun legislation, yet our officers work patrol with a gun attached to their hip, hoping that the person they encounter is not in possession of a weapon. Sergeant Starzyk was one, amongst many, that lost his life in the line of duty. Further government interventions may have prevented this tragic event. Sergeant Starzyk may have been able to return home to his wife and children that day, if the suspect had not been in possession of a firearm, which led to the death of a hero.