Police officers must be made aware that there may be serious emotional, psychological, and other behavioral effects associated with officer-involved shootings. Officers should be prepared to obtain assistance from a qualified mental health provider who can protect your communications under the psychotherapist/patient privilege.
International Association of the Chiefs of Police (IACP) guidelines provide that for emotional support and reassurance, a companion officer should be designated to be with any officer who is involved in a shooting. Should a companion officer be assigned, the IACP guidelines state, “the (involved) officer should be instructed to limit information to their well-being and not the facts of the incident”.
If you are involved in a serious or fatal deadly force incident, you are cautioned to remember your unprotected statements to a trusted peer, trusted supervisor, companion officer, and non-attorney representative about the incident are not privileged and may be discoverable and used against you in subsequent proceedings. Therefore, it is important to limit discussion about the incident to only those individuals with whom you have a legally recognized communication privilege.
Comments or statements about an officer’s involvement in serious or deadly force incidents made in emails, text messages, tweets or posted on social media are not protected communications and should be regarded as both discoverable and potentially used against the officer.
Officers directed to attend a compelled, agency-sponsored, post-critical incident psychological evaluation prior to returning to duty should also be careful not inadvertently sign a medical release form which would allow the psychologist to share information with the agency.
* March 2017, by Stephen Thayer on behalf of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund. This document is provided as a summary overview. Contact your attorney for detailed guidance. Also, refer to related documents on our website, www.policedefense.org