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Officer Involved Shooting Investigations Demystified: Slashing Through the Gordian Knot


One of the largest issues currently facing law enforcement in the United States is police officers shooting civilians and the subsequent criminal investigations of the officers involved. This Article uses primary source material regarding such shootings, analysis of current prosecution models and case statistics, psychological studies, and application of relevant laws and ethical rules to suggest an entirely new model for investigating officer-involved shootings.

This Article argues that two fundamental changes to the standard protocol for investigating officer-involved shootings will result in more accurate, just, and efficient investigations. First, the investigations must be conducted by an entirely independent agency, separate from the agency involved in the shooting. Second, the investigation should follow a vertical prosecution model, with prosecutors involved with and directing the investigation (along with an independent agency) from the inception of the investigation. The latter issue has been completely unexplored by the academic community. The Article also describes law enforcement and police union resistance to these proposed changes in the investigative model.

In addition, the Article takes the reader into the heart of officer involved shooting investigations, using actual shootings to describe detailed procedural and tactical issues that must be addressed to improve reliability and public trust outcomes for these investigations. For instance, the simple acts of rendering immediate first aid to an injured civilian and covering up the body of a deceased civilian can have powerful impacts on community trust. Despite massive confusion, already established ethical rules govern when recordings of officer-involved shootings may be publicly released and dictate that one union-affiliated law firm cannot be allowed to represent all of the police officers involved in a shooting. A complex interplay between labor law, psychological issues, and tactical considerations provides the necessary and proper procedures for the crucial interview of police officers involved in a shooting. Many of these issues have been ignored or overlooked by scholars and working prosecutors to date. This Article suggests the optimal procedures for officer-involved shooting investigations using existing agencies and resources, but also sets forth a completely original re-imagining of officer-involved shooting investigations using a fully autonomous agency.