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A checklist for supervisors: Planning for officer-involved shootings


By Mark Kollar | For Police One

Mark Kollar is a special agent supervisor for BCI’s Major Crimes Division and Northeast Special Investigations Unit. Police One provides news and resources for law enforcement. This article summarizes the fuller version available at

The critical first minutes after an officer-involved shooting are chaotic, commonly characterized by confusion, conflicting information and sensory overload.

The competence and leadership of first-line or mid-level supervisors are put to the test with lives and prosecutions hinging on the quality and speed of the decisions made once they arrive at the scene. 

Creating order out of the chaos, taking command and exerting a calming influence necessitate a level of confidence that can come from preparation. Though it is hoped you will never experience such an event during your career, you need to plan for the possibility.

These suggestions can guide you in navigating the crucial first minutes after a shooting and in creating a departmental policy on how to handle such an event. While this list is numbered, many of the activities occur simultaneously.


As you arrive, know that the potential threats that led to the incident may still exist. Exercise caution to ensure no additional injuries occur. Be mindful of evidence, unsecured weapons and the possibility that additional suspects may be in the area or fleeing. Consider the presence of biological fluids and other hazards — the safety of all involved is paramount.


Take a deep breath and begin directing the activity. Remove unnecessary personnel, mitigate dangers and delegate tasks. Though you may need help from the involved officers to stabilize the situation, all attempts should be made to relieve them of scene responsibilities so they can focus on their physical and mental well-being.


The preservation of life takes priority over the collection of evidence. That being said, make mental notes if alterations to the scene are necessary to care for the injured. Officers should attempt life-saving efforts and medical first responders should be summoned without delay. If practical, clear a route into the scene that is relatively free of obvious physical evidence and direct medical personnel to follow that path. If time permits without sacrificing the welfare of patients, photograph the positioning of injured persons and evidence before moving anything. Check involved officers for injuries; they may not realize they are injured. 


Physical barriers, such as crime scene tape, should be established as quickly as possible to protect the scene and evidence. Always start larger than needed – it is easier to collapse a scene than increase it. Designate officers to maintain security and a crime scene log; establish separate areas for a command post, equipment staging and the media. Attempt to protect fragile or transient evidence from destruction, including by adverse weather. Await the arrival of crime scene processing staff to collect evidence, including firearms, unless circumstances dictate otherwise. If it becomes necessary to move a weapon, be mindful of fingerprint/DNA evidence. Do not reposition the weapon into the scene, but make detailed notes as to its location, position and status (e.g., if there was a live cartridge in the chamber).


All witnesses to the incident, including officers, should be identified and separated to avoid contamination of their memories. However, separate does not necessarily mean alone. It is a good practice to assign a companion or peer to be with the involved officers to serve as a liaison and resource, but not to discuss the incident — unless the officer insists. It generally is not advisable to keep witnesses at the primary scene longer than absolutely needed. The police department, a hospital or their own residence can serve as locations for witnesses to await investigators; note where people were sent. A canvass of the area is often necessary to identify all potential witnesses; many will cooperate if asked but will not come forward on their own. Also note the presence of any recordings, such as from surveillance systems or cellphones. Attempt to obtain them or notify investigators.


The seriousness of the incident or injury dictates the notifications required. Calls for additional personnel or resources (investigators, crime scene staff, scene security and traffic/crowd control) are common, as well as notifications to command staff and the public information officer. In the event of a fatality, contacting the decedent’s next of kin, the coroner and the prosecutor may be warranted. Cautiously brief arriving investigators to avoid sharing statements made by the involved officers under potentially compelled circumstances.


In short, know your department’s policies and follow their mandates.


Just because law enforcement was called to the scene and a shooting death resulted does not necessarily give you the right to conduct further searching once any life-threatening exigency has subsided. Consult with your local legal counsel to ensure any evidence collected is done so in a constitutionally appropriate manner.


Timely and accurate documentation of the scene and of your actions are critical for the investigations that will follow. Small details, such as whether the lights were on or off, can become vitally important. Use checklists to ensure every pertinent fact has been recorded and keep notes of your observations throughout, including alterations to the scene, persons present and statements made. Have photos taken as soon as practical and throughout the response.


There is always room for improvement. Conduct an honest self-assessment to identify areas where you or policies can improve. Solicit constructive criticism from officers. 

Questions to answer before a critical incident

The development and implementation of comprehensive policies to address officer-involved shootings should include answering:
  • Who will process the scene?
  • Who can be called if additional manpower is needed?
  • Will officers be interviewed immediately, or only after a specified “cooling off” period?
  • Can officers view their body-worn camera or dash cam videos before being interviewed?
  • Will the officers be mandated to submit to drug and alcohol testing?
  • Will officers be physically and mentally evaluated at a hospital immediately afterwards?
  • Will officers be required to attend a critical incident stress debriefing?
  • Who will you call to handle the criminal and internal investigations?
  • Will the names of the involved officers be released to the media and if so, when?