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.