13 January 2017

Interacting with the police after a use of force incident

For many of us, our interaction with law enforcement is during a traffic stop or after being involved in a traffic accident.  Even though I am retired law enforcement, in spite of what some would have you believe, I do not automatically get a pass on anything that I do.  Just like anyone else, my heart beats a mile a minute when I see the lights in my rear-view mirror.  People that have followed my work know that I am an outspoken critic of how agencies select, hire, and train their officers.  Just as with any other service provider, some are good and some are bad.  The difference here is that the person you are having contact with is wearing a gun and views everyone they come in contact with as a threat to them, and that is a survival habit I agree with.  The focus of this article is to give you some insights as to how to deal with the police after being involved in a critical incident.  This information is based on almost 20 years in law enforcement and 40 years of dealing with humans in all sorts of different circumstances.  First we will discuss interaction with the police in the aftermath of any critical incident, and then specifics in reference to situations in which you used deadly force.  

Police officers, especially those working uniformed patrol, see the world through a different lens than others when they are working.  Every “call” or “job” for them is like it is for anyone else, something to be completed so they can move on to the next one.  The motivated spend this time on self-initiated contacts in the way of traffic and pedestrian stops in targeted areas.  The unmotivated go back to a mental slumber waiting for the end of their shift hoping that they don’t get another call or that if they do someone else will be close and handle it.  I realize this is much generalized, but in my experience it is the truth.  Both the motivated and unmotivated hate to be disturbed from what they are trying to accomplish.

When you start your career in law enforcement, you have this notion that you will be protecting good from evil.  Before long, that turns into the realization that you are usually stuck in the middle between two pieces of shit over a matter that your common sense will not allow you to process.  Good officers know all the colorful personalities of the people that frequent the areas in which they patrol.  Situations between these types are often more of a management issue than a law enforcement issue.

If you are reading this, there is an excellent chance that you believe that your well being is your responsibility and nobody else’s.  This train of thought also says that you don’t routinely put yourself into a position where stupid people, things, and places can negatively affect your life.  You are not the type of person officers are used to dealing with.  As a matter of fact, you might as well be from a different planet.  People who routinely make a habit of calling the police often use 911 like a little kid yells “Mom” when something does not go their way.  They don’t have any coping or interpersonal communication skills and need the “state” in the form of the police to deal with every little problem.  When you see this play out dozens of times a day, upon arrival to a call you automatically decide what they did to create the situation because it is usually very evident.  Alcohol and drugs are often involved, but even more than that is people who cannot get along but refuse to stay away from each other.

Some people, both police and citizens, may have issues with my thoughts, but as I said, they are my thoughts.  My goal here is to provide you with some perspective in reference to the officers, or officers that are going to respond if you are involved in an incident.

Time and time again in classes I have said that if you have to use any kind of physical force what so ever, you need to be the first person to call 911.  I know that to many this may seem to be a “bitch move,” but the problem is that every piece of shit thinks he is a good guy.  Sure you might have punched a drunk, but the problem is that maybe that drunk’s old man has money and you damaged his teeth.  He gets home and all of a sudden his family has him calling 911 to report an assault.  Through a license plate or witness he is able to identify you.  Because his teeth were damaged, he is able to get a warrant for 1st degree assault.  When the police serve the warrant, you try to tell them how you were attacked and just defending yourself.  One of the first questions out of their mouth, as has often been mine, is “do you have a cell phone?”   You say, “Yes.”  The next question is, “Why did you not call the police?”  Regardless of your feelings about the scenario, it plays out time and time again.  You have to protect yourself all the way around.

Upon the arrival of the police, let them know you are the “victim” and don’t act like a “complainant”.  The root word of complainant is complain, and nobody likes a complainer.  Say, for instance, you were at a gas station where a guy was begging for money.  You were outside your car pumping gas when he approached.  After you refused to give him money, he became agitated and moved towards you.  In reaction to this, you told him to get back.  When he failed to do so, you pushed him and he busted his ass.  Here is an example of what I would say to the officer.

“Hello officer, I am the one that called.  My name is Jim Jones and I was here getting gas when this guy walked up who was pan handling.  When I refused to give him money, he got agitated and came towards me.  There was nowhere for me to go because I was up against my car, so I pushed him and he fell backwards.  Then he got up and ran off.  As far as I know he is not injured and neither am I.   I am not interested in pressing charges.  I just wanted to report it in case he showed up at a hospital or called 911 or something.  Can I just have the incident report or case number?”   

  “Whatever you guys use.”
In those few words you-
Identified yourself
Told him the reason for the call
Explained what happened
Showed why you were forced to act
Showed that you are only looking to protect yourself
Let him know that nobody was injured
Gave the officer the option as to whether or not to write a report
By asking for the incident / complaint number you show that you are informed 

Of course this is generalized, but it allows you to get your needs met without launching a federal investigation.  Most places would call this call “Police Information”.  If something does come from it, you simply call the police department and reference the number given.  Every time the police receive a call for service it is assigned a number, no matter what the call is.  

Next, let’s talk about dealing with the police after using deadly force.  First things first, there is a way to protect yourself without being a total asshole to the responding officers.  I have seen over and over internet commandos and lawyers telling you not to say anything and just hand them your ID, or something along those lines.  That may sound good in writing, but here is the deal.

As previously stated, you are not a special snowflake to the officers.  You are a job.  It may be your first shooting, but certainly not theirs.  They are used to shooters acting like assholes and refusing to give any information to them at all.  Good guys in white hats shooting bad guys in black hats are a fantasy.  Most police officers will never handle a shooting that involves a citizen exercising their rights by protecting themselves against a criminal.  It is usually one piece of shit shooting another piece of shit.

I always laugh when I hear people tell others not to say anything.  The reason I brought up the interaction between most citizens and police being in reference to motor vehicle accidents is to illustrate the phenomenon of excited utterances, better known as diarrhea of the mouth.  When we are kids and something gets broken and the whole “don’t tell Mom” response kicks in, knowing that we will have to give our side of the story, we start automatically fabricating it in our head to put us in the best light.  This is why people rush up to responding officers at a car accident.  They want to give their side of the story first and put them in the same light.  Car accidents, which are critical incidents even if only property damage, are hard for our minds to process.  One of the tools for processing is talking it out, both to ourselves and anyone who will listen.

In the case of a self-defense shooting, upon the arrival of police they automatically trying to figure out what happened so they can move onto the next case.  They have no responsibility to Mirandize you unless they are questioning you about a specific crime.  If all of a sudden you start telling the officer in detail what happened, a good officer will stop you and Mirandize you.  If this does not happen, your words could be used against you later.  After using deadly force, there is an excellent chance that you will not feel well.  During the event, you may have pissed or shit your pants.  Afterwards, with no blood in your belly for digesting food, you may puke.  Using our previous gas station, here is an example of what to say-
“Can you please call me an ambulance?  I don’t feel well and am having chest pains.  I was getting gas, and he walked up.  When I refused to give him money, I saw him pulling a gun from his waistband.  I drew my gun and just fired.  My gun is locked in the trunk of my car.  I know you need it.  Can you please check on that ambulance?”

What have you accomplished in those few sentences?
You don’t feel well and are having chest pains
You need an ambulance
He approached you
You used verbal commands
He attempted to draw a pistol on you
You drew your own gun and fired in response to his
My gun is secure and of no danger to anyone
I understand procedure and am cooperating without giving up my rights
You are really not feeling well

Having chest pains under any circumstances is a guaranteed trip to the hospital.  On the ambulance, they are going to ask you for information such as your name, date of birth, etc.  The police will get that from them instead of you, meaning that you have less interaction with the police.  Even if they put an officer on the ambulance, you will only have to deal with one in a clean, lit, safe place, instead of many, on a dark street, in the back of a police car.  If the officer begins to question you about the scenario, politely tell him that you would like to speak to an attorney first and really don’t feel well.  Separating yourself from the situation is the best way to avoid saying things you will regret later.

Medical staff will routinely ask you what happened.  Be aware that what you say to them can be subpoenaed later on.  There are only three people who cannot be compelled to testify and they are:  your spouse, your attorney, and clergy.  Keep in mind that your phone records will likely be subpoenaed, so watch who you call and what you say.

Nothing offered above should be constituted as legal advice, and is not offered as such.  It is to prompt dissuasion in reference to interaction between citizens and police during chaotic and rapidly evolving situations.   As with all training ideas, in reference to these things should be measured on a sliding scale from fantasy to reality.  It is up to the individual person what should be dismissed and what should be put into practice.

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