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September 16, 2009
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Doug Wyllie, PoliceOne Editor in Chief 10-43: Be Advised...
with Doug Wyllie, PoliceOne Editor in Chief

After an OIS, how much time off is appropriate?

However unlikely an officer-involved shooting is from a statistical standpoint, it’s one of the things every cop on the street has spent hours preparing for, both mentally and physically

Editor's Note: An officer doesn’t need to be in a shooting to suffer negative emotional trauma and administrative stress. Add your voice to the conversation by adding your comments below.

“Dude, take a sick day!”

That was the five-word response of one PoliceOne Member in the comments field beneath a CNN news article posted earlier today about a Fla. officer involved in two shootings in four days.

The fact is, only a small percentage of police officers are ever involved in a shooting incident, and the odds are extremely remote that an officer will be involved in two such incidents in the span of a couple of days. But that’s what happened in Florida this week.

Street Survival Instructor Dave Smith tells PoliceOne, “The vast majority of law enforcement officers will never actually shoot anybody. Meanwhile, some may shoot several. It is a terrible lottery each officer plays when they put on the firearm and hit the streets.”

Is it “Leave” or is it Punitive?
However unlikely an officer involved shooting is from a statistical standpoint, it’s one of the things every cop on the street has spent hours preparing for, both mentally and physically. The when/then thinking that’s discussed in the Street Survival Seminar and other police training demands that level of readiness.

So why the public outcry such as that which is happening in Florida right now when an officer does the job those same citizens demand of them? It’s another ugly irony of the Sheep, the Wolves, and the Sheepdogs — and the fact that departments are too often blown around by the political winds of elected officials — that much-deserved rest becomes totally unwarranted house arrest.

PoliceOne Columnist Dan Marcou says, “One thing is certain. Officers involved in shootings are almost universally treated poorly by the citizens they laid their lives on the line to protect. They absolutely should avoid watching news coverage and reading the blogs of the bleating sheep.”

Smith adds, “My anecdotal research reaffirms that the greatest stress that officers face after their shootings is administrative stress — how would their agency react and rule on their actions?”

No Exact Timeframe
Every incident is different, every officer is different, and policies and procedures differ between agencies. Accordingly, when an officer is deemed to be “ready to return to duty” varies — a lot. In most cases an administrative suspension of some duration is mandatory — some agencies dictate a week or two of paid administrative leave, others use different guidelines.

Administrative differences (and dictates) aside, what are some of the factors you think should be taken into consideration? Some officers will feel a need to get back to work as soon as possible to return their life to normalcy” while others take some time off to decompress from the incident. The fact is, there’s no single “right” thing.

Smith says, “Each officer will react based on their own personality, expectations, fears, training, and how supportive the camaraderie surrounding them is. Officer Abshire of the Dallas Police Department was involved in two shootings within a 24-hour period when he killed an assailant on his shift, returned the next day and killed an assailant immediately after hitting the street. This was in the 60s, and essentially, the post shooting debriefing was it.”

Marcou says, “Part of the decision to return to duty could depend on the officer's need to recover from any physical wounds. Some officers want — some need — time to work their way emotionally through the events that put them suddenly face to face with their own mortality. This feeling can be enhanced when someone such as a partner, a citizen, or the suspect dies.”

What Do You Think?
An officer doesn’t need to be in a shooting to suffer negative emotional trauma and administrative stress. Add your voice to the conversation by adding your comments below.

Marcou sums it up thusly: “When honorable gun fighters win gun fights they should not ever have to suffer, but the fact is they often do. They should remember that because of their will and their skill they now have earned the right to watch the birth of a child, dance at a daughter's wedding, teach a grandchild to swim, or just gaze at a sun set with their wife or husband. Someone tried to take all that from them and they refused to let it happen.”

About the author

Doug Wyllie is Editor in Chief of PoliceOne, responsible for setting the editorial direction of the website and managing the planned editorial features by our roster of expert writers. An award-winning columnist — he is the 2014 Western Publishing Association "Maggie Award" winner in the category of Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column — Doug has authored more than 800 feature articles and tactical tips on a wide range of topics and trends that affect the law enforcement community. Doug is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers' Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA). Even in his "spare" time, he is active in his support for the law enforcement community, contributing his time and talents toward police-related charitable events as well as participating in force-on-force training, search-and-rescue training, and other scenario-based training designed to prepare cops for the fight they face every day on the street.

Read more articles by PoliceOne Editor in Chief Doug Wyllie by clicking here.

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