Psychological Support Following OISs: Recommendations for Police Chiefs
Dr. David Black
Officer-Involved Shootings (OISs) stand amongst the most stressful experiences in the law enforcement profession, so as a Chief it is important to help provide strong support for involved personnel following such events. Many agencies find that it is beneficial for involved officers to meet with a licensed and culturally competent psychologist shortly after an OIS to receive confidential support and professional guidance to help manage the stressors, emotions, and pressures so often experienced following such events. As a Chief, it is important to be proactive in establishing how to best support your personnel following OISs.
Based upon years of experience with many law enforcement agencies, some important considerations when establishing the procedures for providing psychological support following OISs include:
1. Choose the Right Professional
Ensure that a culturally competent law enforcement psychologist is utilized. Sending your people to someone who does not understand and appreciate the profession can do more harm than good.
2. Keep Support Distinct from “Fitness” Evaluations
Keep the OIS support process separate and distinct from any Fitness-for-Duty Evaluation (FFDE) process. The IACP guidelines for FFDEs (available here) establish the threshold for psychological determination of officer fitness, and it is important to note that being involved in an OIS does not constitute sufficient basis for mandating such an evaluation. To avoid unnecessary confusion, avoid using the term “fitness” in OIS support policy or when scheduling wellness support sessions for your personnel.
3. Consider the Benefits of 1:1 CISDs
Treating the support provided for officers following OISs as 1:1 Critical Incident Stress Debriefings (CISDs) has several advantages, including: a) priority scheduling is often set aside for CISDs, b) CISDs typically do not include written reporting, and c) the 1:1 approach overcomes key concerns sometimes associated with group CISDs (e.g., confidentiality, emotional contagion, and the opportunity for the psychologist to focus entirely on one individual at a time). Additionally, experience has shown that a large majority of officers report satisfaction with this type of support following OISs, even when attendance is mandated.
Providing strong support following OISs can make all the difference for officers, their agencies, and the communities they serve. Fortunately, as a chief you have the opportunity to set up a process to provide such support to your personnel. Additionally, consider providing your personnel with an overview of effective strategies for caring for oneself following critical incidents.