New Book: Guidelines For Investigating OISs, ARDs & Custody Deaths

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

When it comes to suspects who die in law enforcement settings, street cops, investigators, administrators, police lawyers, and medical examiners can probably all agree on one thing: investigating such events, in the words of one research team, is a “perilous and a slippery slope.”

An excellent new book—Guidelines for Investigating Officer-Involved Shootings, Arrest-Related Deaths, and Deaths in Custody—is designed to make that challenging task less fraught, the outcome more reliable, and, to the extent possible, the occurrence itself less controversial and contentious.

Its 300+ pages of tightly packed, practical reports of the latest relevant research findings and recommended procedures are likely to become a bible for law enforcement stakeholders who are fated to deal with the hot-button title topics while under great public pressure and scrutiny.

Lead author/editor is Darrell Ross, who shares the book’s byline with colleague Gary Vilke. Ross, whose research studies are well known to Force Science News readers, is a PhD and CJ department head who directs the Center for Applied Social Sciences at Valdosta (GA) State University. Vilke, a physician, is a professor in the emergency medicine department at the University of California-San Diego who has extensively researched in-custody deaths.

Fifteen other high-cred contributors, including some Force Science associates, have produced chapters for this unique volume, ranging from essentials that investigators need to know about the effects of stress on decision-making and memory to how an agency can most effectively respond to the media regarding use-of-force incidents.

Collectively, Ross says, the contributors, all working practitioners, “have provided expert witness services in over 2,000 cases on all the varying topics addressed in the book.” Their commentaries contain instructive case examples and lessons learned, sometimes through painful personal experience.

RARE & COMPLEX

A law enforcement-related death is a rare occurrence, Ross points out—so rare, in fact, that it is likely to be a once-in-a-career experience for everyone involved, from field officers to medical examiners. Add to that unfamiliarity the forensic complexity and relentless stress of a high-profile investigation and you have a recipe for much that can go wrong.

“Performing an investigation in any one of these types of death…requires current knowledge and skills in numerous disciplines and techniques,” Ross writes. “Errors can significantly impact the ultimate outcome, so getting it right is of utmost importance.”

Toward that end, Guidelines offers in layman’s language:

  • focused insights into the nature of these deaths,
  • the numerous and often misunderstood investigatory issues that tend to emerge,
  • current scientific research findings pertinent to each topic area,
  • a specific, comprehensive “framework of actions, considerations, and activities” required to perform “competent, productive, and thorough investigations,” and
  • vital checklists of proper protocols to assure that nothing is missed as the investigation proceeds to resolution.

Each of the book’s 16 chapters concludes with extensive lists of additional resources where even more information on each given subject can be accessed.

Here’s how the volume unfolds:

CONTEXTUAL BASICS

The first five chapters lay a fundamental groundwork for an investigator approaching the special circumstances of a suspect’s death, potentially the most challenging assignment he or she will ever draw.

Ross and colleagues explain in detail the expectations of the various concerned parties, including the department, the involved officer(s), the deceased’s family, the criminal justice system, and the investigator himself. And they itemize some 30 “emergent questions” that will need to be addressed, as well as 10 common “failures” that can lead to incomplete or wholly erroneous conclusions.

Legal and liability issues relevant to criminal, civil, and administrative aspects of an investigation are reviewed in detail. “Failure to be aware of these legal distinctions could severely damage the investigation,” Ross writes, “while understanding the law and procedures will assist in ensuring the evidence obtained will not be suppressed in future proceedings.”

When a suspect has died in a shooting or other use-of-force event, it will also be critically important for an investigator to understand the mental state of the involved officer(s) at the time of the encounter. Here Ross and a combat stress researcher (Randall Murphy) thoroughly describe “the science of the stress response,” providing a roundup of ground-breaking peer-reviewed findings about the impact of stress on officer performance and offering a useful “human factors checklist.” Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of the Force Science Institute, is among the experts cited.

Guidelines includes a full chapter on “Memory and Decision Making Under Stress” by Force Science instructor Dr. Alexis Artwohl. She explores 20 “key findings” about how decisions are made and actions recalled, including the fact that investigators themselves may fall victim to their own mental vagaries.

It’s important for investigators to become familiar with scientific research, Ross writes, “to gain a better understanding for the limits of human performance.” That will provide them “better guidance in conducting the investigation and preparing to interview the involved officer.”

(Investigators and other interested parties, of course, can also keep abreast of the latest scientific findings on human behavior under stress by checking regularly with the Force Science website at: www.forcescience.org.)

PROTOCOLS

A successful investigation starts before there’s a need for it, Ross points out in Chapter 6, which serves as a keystone for the book.

Beginning with policies, training, and pre-incident planning, Ross and a police chief (Mark Dunston) walk you through the proper investigative process, including protocol and procedures for dealing with the involved officer, the scene, the scene supervisor, the agency administrator, witnesses, communications evidence, medical documentation, the autopsy, the investigator’s report, even notification of the suspect’s survivors.

Forms and checklists abound. These range from a “Sudden Arrest-Related Death Investigation Form” to an “Officer-Involved Shooting Checklist” to a “Force Investigation Team Investigation Checklist”—all designed to help investigators “cross-reference their work” and “mitigate potential errors.”

NON-GSW FACTORS

Next, Guidelines addresses a series of factors that may surface in cases where gunshot wounds are not the obvious cause of death.

Some of these may be alleged as evidence of excessive or inappropriate physical force—neck holds, for example, and other physical control techniques that plaintiffs’ attorneys may claim induce positional or restraint asphyxia.

Others factors discussed may actually have played a decisive role in the arrest-related death at hand, but quite apart from any wrongdoing by officers. These include excited delirium and drugs such as cocaine, amphetamines, bath salts, and central nervous system depressants.

Across five chapters, nine MDs with impeccable credentials and front-line experience, including Vilke, draw on extensive research studies, case histories, and courtroom evidence to separate myth from fact regarding these subjects.

They provide investigators with specific questions to pursue to evaluate what role, if any, these elements may have played in a suspect’s sudden death. And, again, they include well-constructed checklists to document the touching of each base and to keep any legitimate possibility from being overlooked.

WEAPONS

Two chapters dealing with non-firearm weapons round out this portion of the book.

One by Vilke and a colleague (Dr. Christian Sloane) focuses on so-called less-lethal weapons, such as riot control agents (CN and CS), OC spray, and blunt projectiles, some of which can inflict serious injuries up to death.

The authors include the history of these weapons, their mechanisms of action, their intended and other physiologic effects, safety risks, and complications, building to “the key factors to evaluate in a death investigation” where they were involved.

The second chapter, by TASER-associated Atty. Michael Brave and biomedical scientist Mark Kroll, covers conducted electrical weapons. Their writing seeks to clarify “deep misunderstandings of the basic concepts, operation, and effects” of the modern CEW that might otherwise cloud investigation of a death proximate to the use of this weaponry.

They discuss fatal falls and fume ignitions caused by CEWs and delve deeply into whether cardiac arrest from electrocution caused by this weapon is possible. (Spoiler alert: “The notion that an electrical weapon has ever electrocuted anyone is an urban myth,” they state.)

Extensive checklists accompany their chapter, including what’s important for an investigator to request of a medical examiner and what to ask witnesses, EMS personnel, and involved officers.

WRAP-UP

After a chapter on custodial deaths in detention facilities by Ross, himself a former corrections officer, Guidelines wraps up with two important topics: How to conduct an investigative interview and how to handle the media after a significant use-of-force event.

The interviewing chapter reflects the pioneering work of Force Science instructor Edward Geiselman and is co-authored with him by FS instructor Alexis Artwohl and Atty. James Wilson, a certified Force Science Analyst.

Geiselman is the co-developer of the Cognitive Interviewing technique which structures questioning to maximize the amount of memory that can be mined from an individual without compromising accuracy.

The authors explain how it works, how it differs from conventional interviewing/interrogation, and when to do it. They include revealing lessons learned for both investigators and involved officers from their professional experiences.

The book’s last chapter, “Effective Agency Response to the Media in Use-of-Force Incidents,” was written by Todd Lough, a former Chicago officer with a PhD in political science.

Among other things, he lists 10 “best recommendations for fostering effective police/media relations, especially following use-of-force incidents.”

However, he adds: “Despite an agency’s best efforts at media and public relations, there are still times when particular use-of-force incidents occur that will elicit an immediate and negative response from the press and the public. A policy of swift and aggressive damage control needs to be employed in particularly ugly situations…where there is great potential for a police department to be perceived…as either incompetent, reckless, or criminally brutal….”

As Ross tells us in Guidelines, a critical part of that damage control must be a professional, thorough, and honest investigation that helps build and sustain public trust.

Guidelines for Investigating Officer-Involved Shootings, Arrest-Related Deaths, and Deaths in Custody can be ordered through Amazon.com in both soft-cover and Kindle editions.

Darrell Ross can be reached at: dross@valdosta.edu

GDPR

  • Privacy Policy

Privacy Policy

Effective date: January 06, 2019

Force Science Institute, Ltd. (“us”, “we”, or “our”) operates the https://www.forcescience.org/ website (hereinafter referred to as the “Service”).

This page informs you of our policies regarding the collection, use, and disclosure of personal data when you use our Service and the choices you have associated with that data. Our Privacy Policy for Force Science Institute, Ltd. is based on the Privacy Policy Template from Privacy Policies.

We use your data to provide and improve the Service. By using the Service, you agree to the collection and use of information in accordance with this policy. Unless otherwise defined in this Privacy Policy, the terms used in this Privacy Policy have the same meanings as in our Terms and Conditions, accessible from https://www.forcescience.org/

Information Collection And Use

We collect several different types of information for various purposes to provide and improve our Service to you.

Types of Data Collected

Personal Data

While using our Service, we may ask you to provide us with certain personally identifiable information that can be used to contact or identify you (“Personal Data”). Personally identifiable information may include, but is not limited to:

  • Email address
  • First name and last name
  • Phone number
  • Address, State, Province, ZIP/Postal code, City
  • Cookies and Usage Data

Usage Data

We may also collect information on how the Service is accessed and used (“Usage Data”). This Usage Data may include information such as your computer’s Internet Protocol address (e.g. IP address), browser type, browser version, the pages of our Service that you visit, the time and date of your visit, the time spent on those pages, unique device identifiers and other diagnostic data.

Tracking & Cookies Data

We use cookies and similar tracking technologies to track the activity on our Service and hold certain information.

Cookies are files with small amount of data which may include an anonymous unique identifier. Cookies are sent to your browser from a website and stored on your device. Tracking technologies also used are beacons, tags, and scripts to collect and track information and to improve and analyze our Service.

You can instruct your browser to refuse all cookies or to indicate when a cookie is being sent. However, if you do not accept cookies, you may not be able to use some portions of our Service. You can learn more how to manage cookies in the Browser Cookies Guide.

Examples of Cookies we use:

  • Session Cookies. We use Session Cookies to operate our Service.
  • Preference Cookies. We use Preference Cookies to remember your preferences and various settings.
  • Security Cookies. We use Security Cookies for security purposes.

Use of Data

Force Science Institute, Ltd. uses the collected data for various purposes:

  • To provide and maintain the Service
  • To notify you about changes to our Service
  • To allow you to participate in interactive features of our Service when you choose to do so
  • To provide customer care and support
  • To provide analysis or valuable information so that we can improve the Service
  • To monitor the usage of the Service
  • To detect, prevent and address technical issues

Transfer Of Data

Your information, including Personal Data, may be transferred to — and maintained on — computers located outside of your state, province, country or other governmental jurisdiction where the data protection laws may differ than those from your jurisdiction.

If you are located outside United States and choose to provide information to us, please note that we transfer the data, including Personal Data, to United States and process it there.

Your consent to this Privacy Policy followed by your submission of such information represents your agreement to that transfer.

Force Science Institute, Ltd. will take all steps reasonably necessary to ensure that your data is treated securely and in accordance with this Privacy Policy and no transfer of your Personal Data will take place to an organization or a country unless there are adequate controls in place including the security of your data and other personal information.

Disclosure Of Data

Legal Requirements

Force Science Institute, Ltd. may disclose your Personal Data in the good faith belief that such action is necessary to:

  • To comply with a legal obligation
  • To protect and defend the rights or property of Force Science Institute, Ltd.
  • To prevent or investigate possible wrongdoing in connection with the Service
  • To protect the personal safety of users of the Service or the public
  • To protect against legal liability

Security Of Data

The security of your data is important to us, but remember that no method of transmission over the Internet, or method of electronic storage is 100% secure. While we strive to use commercially acceptable means to protect your Personal Data, we cannot guarantee its absolute security.

Service Providers

We may employ third party companies and individuals to facilitate our Service (“Service Providers”), to provide the Service on our behalf, to perform Service-related services or to assist us in analyzing how our Service is used.

These third parties have access to your Personal Data only to perform these tasks on our behalf and are obligated not to disclose or use it for any other purpose.

Analytics

We may use third-party Service Providers to monitor and analyze the use of our Service.

  • Google AnalyticsGoogle Analytics is a web analytics service offered by Google that tracks and reports website traffic. Google uses the data collected to track and monitor the use of our Service. This data is shared with other Google services. Google may use the collected data to contextualize and personalize the ads of its own advertising network.You can opt-out of having made your activity on the Service available to Google Analytics by installing the Google Analytics opt-out browser add-on. The add-on prevents the Google Analytics JavaScript (ga.js, analytics.js, and dc.js) from sharing information with Google Analytics about visits activity.For more information on the privacy practices of Google, please visit the Google Privacy & Terms web page: https://policies.google.com/privacy?hl=en

Links To Other Sites

Our Service may contain links to other sites that are not operated by us. If you click on a third party link, you will be directed to that third party’s site. We strongly advise you to review the Privacy Policy of every site you visit.

We have no control over and assume no responsibility for the content, privacy policies or practices of any third party sites or services.

Children’s Privacy

Our Service does not address anyone under the age of 18 (“Children”).

We do not knowingly collect personally identifiable information from anyone under the age of 18. If you are a parent or guardian and you are aware that your Children has provided us with Personal Data, please contact us. If we become aware that we have collected Personal Data from children without verification of parental consent, we take steps to remove that information from our servers.

Changes To This Privacy Policy

We may update our Privacy Policy from time to time. We will notify you of any changes by posting the new Privacy Policy on this page.

We will let you know via email and/or a prominent notice on our Service, prior to the change becoming effective and update the “effective date” at the top of this Privacy Policy.

You are advised to review this Privacy Policy periodically for any changes. Changes to this Privacy Policy are effective when they are posted on this page.

Contact Us

If you have any questions about this Privacy Policy, please contact us:

  • By email: [email protected]
  • By visiting this page on our website: https://www.forcescience.org/contact
  • By phone number: 866-683-1944
  • By mail: Force Science Institute, Ltd.