Gunslinger Research is proud to welcome back James Gray, CEO of TriggerSafe LLC and a 26 year Veteran of the Indianapolis Metro Police Department. James was kind enough to share his reflections on when a Police Officer will be forced to pull the trigger, and most importantly what comes after. If you have the opportunity to hear James speak on this topic, (all uniformed professionals can benefit from his experience) we urge you to do so! You can find out more by clicking HERE for the Dolan Consulting Group website! You can also check out the TriggerSafe website HERE.
Editor’s Note: While this article is written by an American Police Officer, with the standard American law enforcement terminology, this information is also extremely relevant to all Canadians. This should be passed on to everyone that carries a firearm for work, to include law enforcement, security and military members.
Reflecting On Officer Involved Shootings
By: James Gray, CEO TriggerSafe LLC
A suicidal man with a gun runs through an apartment. Responding officers soon corner him in the bedroom. The officers begin conversing with him from the doorway while he sits on the bed with a pistol in his hand. The police officers, following their suicide intervention training, are patient and caring. 15 minutes into the intervention the police officers believing that this is almost over, the suicidal man begins to move the loaded weapon and starts to point it towards the officers. One officer begins to move his weapon at the same speed as the person on the bed. The officer, waiting until the last moment, with the suicidal man’s gun pointed directly at him, the police officer fires. The man falls backwards mortally wounded. The shooting only took 1.3 seconds, the effects will last for years.
As law enforcement officers, we know a lethal force encounter can happen. And to varying degrees, we have prepared for it. We spend time on the range, we search deep in our minds, doing all we can to make sure we can pull the trigger to protect the public, our fellow officers and to go home at the end of our shift. But what happens after the shooting is over? How has the department prepared the officer for what comes after the shooting? The sad truth is that many departments do not prepare as well for what comes after the shooting as they do for the shooting itself.
I have spent a career in law enforcement from working for a small town Marshal in the 80’s to being a Deputy U.S. Marshal in the 90’s to an officer for the city of Indianapolis from 1991 until 2017. I have been involved in three lethal police action shootings during my time with Indianapolis. From my own experiences, and from traveling around the country talking to other officers, the common statement from officers that have been involved in shootings is this: “The shooting wasn’t that stressful, it was all the other stuff I had to do.”.
Take a moment and think about that. In most cases, the shooting, as stressful as that is, was not as stressful as all the administrative hoops that the officer had to jump through after the event. How backwards does that seem? And why do we think that the procedural stress becomes more then the event stress?
Ask yourself, how much has my department trained officers on what happens after a shooting event? One of the biggest stressors after an event is the unknown of what comes next. We are talking about a shooting event, but keep in mind that any critical event can cause these stressors. As an organization, training and knowledge is something that we can give to our officers at a relatively cheap price. So how do we go about passing that knowledge to the officer that may be involved?
The range is a practical place to discuss some of these topics. If all we do at the range is shoot, I believe we are doing a disservice to our officers. One hour of discussion on the administrative issues that officers may face after a shooting provides them with the knowledge so if they are involved, they at least have a general idea of what to expect.
Any serious shooting will bring multiple investigations. Criminal, Administrative and Civil are three main areas of investigation that will occur. The administrative investigation will also include many areas that will create stress. Internal Affairs will investigate to determine if the officer conducted themselves according to policy and procedures. The department will have the officer go to an independent entity for a psychological assessment. The officer will most likely not be able to go back to his normal work assignment until investigations are complete. There may be an administrative firearms review board. All of these events create stress for the officer. Much of that stress is because we don’t know what to expect.
In-service training during the year is another venue to transfer knowledge. A thirty-minute session on these topics goes a long way in furthering an officer’s understanding of what may come. Bringing in Internal Affairs to explain what their focus of the investigation will be is a cost effective way to bring that training into focus for the class.
Criminal investigations, no matter how reasonable the shooting, create stress for obvious reasons. A knowledge base before an event will assist the officers in mentally preparing for what comes next. The criminal investigation has to occur, and should not be taken personally by the officers involved. Training from homicide or other detectives on the procedures that they will follow during these events will assist the officer with an understanding of what may happen. Evidence collection, to include their weapon, ammo, vehicle and clothes in some circumstances, is vitally important as part of the investigation.
Civil arenas include civil law suits that usually follow a police action shooting. These suits may be filed up to two years after the event. Depositions will be taken and the officer will have to talk to municipal legal counsel. These suits may take several years to move forward. All the while the officer will continue to work his normal assignment with this in the back of his mind. My last shooting was in February of 2014. The civil lawsuit was filed in February of 2016. The suit is still moving forward at this time, almost four years after the event.
Look back at the beginning of this article and ask yourself, “What does my department do to prepare officers for this event? Specifically, after the shooting has ended. And then remember what many officers have said about their shooting “The shooting wasn’t that stressful, it was all the other stuff I had to do.”.
Prepare your officers for all the aspects of an officer involved shooting and stay safe.
CEO & Owner, TriggerSafe LLC
James is a 26-year veteran of the Indianapolis Metro Police Department, having spent the majority of that time on the street. He is also an 18.5-year member of SWAT having recently retired from the team in April of 2015. He is currently assigned to the Firearms Range within the Training Division. Throughout his career he has been involved in numerous critical incidents including three lethal police action shootings. James is a state certified general and firearms instructor. James was also a Deputy U.S. Marshal in Washington D.C. for two years prior to IMPD. He has attended numerous schools including firearms, explosive breaching, SWAT, and executive protection. James has a B.S. degree from Indiana University. He is currently travelling around the country speaking on Officer Involved Shootings for Dolan Consulting Group and will be a presenter at the 2017 I.A.C.P in Philadelphia. He was recently interviewed by Brian Willis of the Excellence in Training Academy.