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Police Responses to Officer-Involved Shootings, Executive Summary

NCJ Number
Date Published
October 2001
17 pages
This is an executive summary of a report on police officer descriptions of their responses and experiences during and after they have shot someone.
Interviews were conducted with 80 municipal and county police officers who reported on 113 separate cases in which they shot persons during their careers in law enforcement. Information was obtained on officers' backgrounds; features of the shooting event; the thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of officers during the shooting incident; their physical, psychological, and emotional experiences after the shooting; and the treatment that the officers received from others (e.g., family members, other officers, and their agency) following the shooting. Regarding experiences during the shooting, officers had a sense of disbelief prior to firing in 32 percent of the shootings and as they fired in 34 percent of the shootings. Officers experienced a sense of fear for their own safety prior to firing in 35 percent of the shootings and as they fired in 30 percent of the cases. A sense of fear for someone else's safety was experienced prior to firing in 54 percent of the cases and as they fired in 49 percent of the cases. Many of the officers who did not report feeling fearful reported that they believed that their safety, the safety of a third party, or both, was in jeopardy at some point in their shootings. Tunnel vision was experienced prior to firing in 31 percent of the cases, a sense of heightened visual detail in 37 percent of the cases, and both visual distortions in another 10 percent of cases. Other physical sensations experienced by some percentage of officers prior to and during firing were diminution of sound, a slowing of the sense of time, and slow motion. Responses after the shooting showed a relatively high percentage of officers experiencing fatigue, trouble sleeping, and recurrent thoughts. As time passed, the proportion of cases in which officers experienced a given response diminished; by the time 3 months had passed, the proportion of cases in which officers experienced given reactions decreased by at least 50 percent in 16 of the 17 response categories. Implications of the findings are discussed for shooting investigations, police training, and mental health services for officers. 2 tables and 6 references

Date Published: October 1, 2001