Ray Meyer [not shown] was a sergeant for the California Highway Patrol. The ex-cop emailed the Force Science Institute (FSI) a question that’s been rattling around my head for a while: why should cops get special treatment after a shooting? FSI’s run dozens of articles on how to protect cops’ legal rights and mental well-being after a shooting, from how not to interview them, to the officer’s need for not one but two night’s sleep before providing their sworn statement. Now that he’s retired, Ray wonders how he’d be treated if he’s involved in a DGU (Defensive Gun Use) . . .
We always treat the officer involved in an OIS [Officer Involved Shooting] as if it’s a good shooting. Assume a citizen involved in a shooting has a concealed firearms carry permit or was acting in self-defense on his own property and based on his initial statement and initial review of the evidence the shooting appears justified.
What would you do if the citizen says he’ll give you his firearm when he gets another one on and he tells you he will provide a full statement after he gets 2 sleep cycles and has his attorney present?
Do you give him a ride home to change clothes before taking him to the station for questioning and/or letting the press see him? Whatever you do for an OIS, would you do the same for a legally armed citizen? Is a team like an OIS team assigned, or are the on-call homicide detective and the standard CSI crew used? Should we care when a citizen with a concealed firearm carry permit is involved in a self-defense or threat-to-life shooting?
Over to you, Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of the Force Science Institute [above]. Dr. Bill reckons cops involved in OIS get worse treatment than civilians brought in after a DGU. And that ain’t right.
A legally armed civilian and a sworn peace officer are not comparable in the context of a shooting situation.
An officer is acting under the color of law and is generally performing his assigned role as society’s representative when a shooting occurs and will likely continue in that role in some format after the shooting – subsequently the replacement of a professional instrument that is a required tool of the job. Further, as part of his selection process, he has been assessed on the basis of background checks, mental health and fitness evaluations, and training. His job performance is supervised and evaluated. He has a track record that is known to his department. He operates under a special duty and special regulations.
A civilian or retired law enforcement officer, even if legally armed, is likely not acting under color of law and may be an unknown entity to the investigating agency. In both cases, the shooting must be thoroughly and fairly investigated. But where an on duty officer is involved, a more specialized investigation is likely to be appropriate.
Because of the probability that it will be involved in a civil lawsuit, the department has a particular interest in the nature of an OIS investigation, apart from concerns about criminal violations. There may be Garrity issues, union and policy matters, media and community perceptions, and training considerations that don’t apply to civilian actors.
Are officers really treated with the special sensitivity that Sgt. Meyer suggests?
They should be, because of their special status. But unfortunately, they still are not in many jurisdictions, given the same level of consideration of a citizen. To get rest, shower, change clothing and legal consultation prior to giving a statement, for example, all a civilian needs to do is invoke his Miranda rights. The citizen, if they choose, could come back sometime later with their attorney and give a formal statement. For officers on many agencies who feel they are trapped in a pressurized and coercive environment after a shooting, that would be a procedural improvement!
Really? Cops have union reps who instantly and immediately remora their brother or sister officer after an OIS. The officer’s mouthpiece knows the process and pitfalls that lie ahead (not to mention a warm personal relationship with the DA) inside-out, upside down and backwards and forwards.
Add in the “we take care of our own. us vs. them” cop shop culture and the chances that a law enforcement officer involved in an OIS will be railroaded are statistically insignificant.
In contrast, a civilian involved in a DGU faces the full weight of the police department, prosecutor’s office and any and all elected politicians anywhere within the state. Even if it’s a “good shoot,” the system will put them through hell, seeking every possible advantage. Mentally, physically, legally and emotionally. Yes, even in Texas.
In short, Bill, cry me a river. And talk to my lawyer.