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10 commandments for cops after use of deadly force

Force Science Institute

Force Science Institute
Writer: Force Science Institute

Reprinted with permission from Force Science Information #376.

Your first precedence in utilizing deadly force is to outlive the life-threatening circumstances that prompted you to tug the set off. Then there’s surviving the aftermath. Some officers declare that may be much more nerve-racking, and positively it’s a extra prolonged check of survival expertise of a special variety, contemplating that capturing instances can drag on for years earlier than they’re lastly resolved.

Police lawyer Scott Wooden, a former officer, a licensed Force Science Analyst and a Force Science teacher, has helped scores of officers navigate the perilous post-shooting passage, together with some who’ve dominated nationwide headlines.

Based mostly on his experiences, he has compiled what he considers the 10 commandments for surviving what lies in retailer after the smoke clears. Right here’s what he urges you to recollect:


If you turned an officer you swore to defend the Structure together with your life if want be. You additionally agreed to know and uphold the regulation.

Now that you simply’ve used deadly force, are you able to fulfill your oath by justifying your authorized presence on the time of the incident and explaining your authorized basis for utilizing deadly force?


Proper after a capturing that in all probability was over in a matter of seconds you’ll have little or no detailed recall of your thought course of main as much as and through the occasion. It might look like you acted on “auto pilot.” This could result in speedy doubts about attainable errors in your decision-making.

That is the time to recall your numerous hours on the vary and in use-of-force simulation coaching the place an applicable split-second response to a deadly menace was drilled into your thoughts.

After issues have settled down and you’ve got a interval of sleep, you’ll be capable of start recalling and articulating many elements you have been conscious of that prompted your capturing choice. They could have flashed into your consciousness for mere milliseconds, however with time it is possible for you to to discern what many of these have been.

When you’ve had good coaching, belief your goal intuition and don’t let unfounded second-guessing or uncertainties undermine your confidence that you simply did the appropriate factor. You’ll want religion in your self to face what could also be troublesome days forward.


In case you’re concerned in a capturing or an arrest-related dying, your use of force has a excessive chance of being litigated – regardless of the authorized justification for your actions. Sadly, that’s the truth in right now’s litigious tradition.

Felony prosecution of officers has been traditionally uncommon as a result of the overwhelming majority of officer-involved shootings are justified underneath legal statutes. Much more probably, you’ll be named in a civil lawsuit, in all probability a Part 1983 Civil Rights declare (42 U.S.C.A. 1983), alleging that you simply used extreme force.

As you’re employed your means by way of the aftermath of a capturing, stay cognizant of the potential authorized menace. Don’t worry it, however use the rules outlined right here to greatest place your self and your loved ones for efficiently weathering that storm. This can require effort in your half, throughout a time that may little question be psychologically and bodily draining on you. However there’s a lot you are able to do to keep away from self-sabotage.

Bear in mind, too, that you could have some authorized choices that could possibly be pursued towards the offender or his property. Getting an lawyer who’s well-versed and skilled in police litigation is important.


When you’ve been in regulation enforcement for any size of time, you need to have already got learn “Deadly Force Encounters” by Dr. Alexis Artwohl, a Force Science teacher and former police psychologist.

The knowledge she conveys concerning the psychological impression of a important incident and the potential for creating lingering perceptual distortions of what occurred make it clear that the perfect time to provide an official assertion about your capturing just isn’t instantly afterward. You want time to emotionally decompress and for your reminiscences of the occasion to consolidate, as a result of this assertion will probably be crucial you’ll make in your profession. In any litigation, will probably be key proof, so that you need it as full and correct as attainable.

Even in case you are allowed to complement an instantaneous assertion later, doing so might probably create big issues for you in civil litigation when the suggestion will probably be made that you simply “conveniently” remembered some necessary details a couple of days after your capturing to be able to bolster your place of authorized justification.

Ensure you are refreshed, bodily properly and psychologically prepared earlier than giving your account of what occurred.


Self-discipline your self towards spontaneous outbursts or informal feedback and conversations about your incident outdoors of “protected” settings.

Anybody you speak to concerning the capturing who doesn’t take pleasure in a acknowledged authorized privilege of confidentiality with you could be referred to as as a possible witness in civil litigation. At that later time, they could keep in mind all of what you stated, some of what you stated, or assume they keep in mind all or some of what you stated.

Earlier than you converse, ask your self: Is that this the type of proof I need a jury to listen to and use to find out the propriety of my capturing choice?


Be accustomed to your division’s coverage on deadly force investigations earlier than you turn out to be concerned in a single:

Have you learnt if coverage permits you to evaluate video and audio recordings earlier than you make your assertion? Are you required to submit something in writing earlier than you go off shift or go house on administrative depart? In case you have body-cam proof, have you learnt how that’s to be dealt with?

Nervousness over the unknown is widespread in everybody, so figuring out the drill forward of time will alleviate some additional stress. Should you haven’t ready forward of time for a essential incident and are affected by added nervousness, don’t be bashful about asking your union rep or your lawyer what will occur within the course of the investigation.


After you use deadly force, you may be a suspect in a murder. However keep in mind that by turning into a regulation enforcement officer you didn’t surrender any of your constitutional rights.

Beneath the Fifth Modification you might have the proper to an lawyer and you’ve got the correct to stay silent till you’re prepared to provide your detailed account of how your capturing occurred. Keep in mind, although, that it’s essential to affirmatively invoke this proper by telling the investigator(s) that you simply need to train your proper to stay silent based mostly on the Fifth Modification and the U.S. Supreme Courtroom case of Salinas v. Texas. (For extra particulars on invoking this proper, see Force Science Information #360.)

Figuring out the share of shootings that end in litigation and the truth that your assertion shall be a key exhibit in any sort of case, the assertion you give must be as full and as correct as potential. This can require effort in your half, throughout a interval that may little question be psychologically draining on you.


After the incident, take benefit of peer help, union illustration, authorized illustration and psychological counseling. The latter two have a acknowledged authorized privilege hooked up to them, which frees you to speak concerning the occasion to these people with assurance of confidentiality.

Taking the life of one other is usually and understandably a life-changing occasion. The aftermath, with main administrative, authorized, bodily and psychological ramifications, is undeniably worrying. Assist your self through the use of out there assets of help.


Earlier than giving your official assertion, be sure you’ll be able to absolutely articulate – truthfully and to the perfect of your capacity – the totality of circumstances that led to your determination to use deadly force.

You and also you alone should be capable of clarify the suitable authorized requirements relating to affordable suspicion or possible trigger to justify your contact with the suspect. You should additionally have the ability to articulate the suitable authorized requirements on the use of deadly force set forth within the U.S. Supreme Courtroom instances of Tennessee v. Garner and Graham v. Connor.

Meaning it’s essential to be capable of recount the severity of the crime at challenge, whether or not the suspect posed a direct menace to the security of officers or others, and whether or not the suspect was actively resisting arrest or trying to evade arrest by flight. You have to describe why you have been in worry of your life, and/or for the lives of others, or why you believed the suspect was a unbroken and quick menace to the general public if not apprehended.

It’s essential to have the ability to recreate what occurred out of your perspective to teach those that will decide your actions however weren’t there to face the challenges you confronted first hand. This requires critical thought and thorough preparation. It’s not one thing to attempt to wing within the second, nevertheless assured you might be of the “righteousness” of your place.


Whenever you do give your assertion, the worst errors you can also make are to shade particulars in your favor, fill gaps in your reminiscence with what you consider “must” have occurred fairly than admit you don’t know, or to outright lie.

Forensic proof and immediately’s omnipresent digital camera protection will ultimately give investigators a lot element about what occurred, and concocted tales won’t survive scrutiny.

Even in our presently contentious environment, most juries and judges most of the time are prepared to consider an officer’s model of occasions. However it doesn’t take a lot to weaken that religion. Don’t assist those that need to discredit you by capturing your self within the foot. That’s a capturing that may be robust to outlive.

For extra info, lawyer Scott Wooden may be reached at okcoplaw@aol.com.