In the last month the Oakland Police department released its independent board of inquiry report from the March 21, 2009 officer related shooting. Before I go any further I want to commend the Oakland Police department and its leadership. The release of this material is a valuable lesson in Critical incident scene management, use of force, and police related shootings.
The Independent review which can be found here, (thanks to Lt. Fred Leland of LESC.net) provides invaluable insight into an evolving scene and the pitfalls that can crop up. From my perspective, as a shift supervisor who has supervised critical incidents before the major thought and common thread that runs throughout the period is Containment, Containment, Containment. Contain the suspect, Contain the injuries that may or may not be mounting, Contain the evidence, witnesses, scene, and Contain the additional personnel that WILL be arriving much quicker than you can ever anticipate.
I have significant misgivings about second guessing anyone involved in a critical incident for very personal reasons, but we cannot let the lessons that this tells us go unheard. If we do not as a profession learn from the mistakes others have made then their deaths are wasted, and if one life is saved it is well worth it. So many mistakes tactically were made now in hindsight, but I am going to point out a few that on each level of the “Management chain”.
First level, The initial car stop: the entire incident was avoidable and should have been avoided. The approach of the two Officers during the initial stop went against everything we teach recruits. Both Officers approached the vehicle on the drivers side and provided themselves no cover at all. Had the second Officer approached from the more standard passenger side rear, at best perhaps the driver would have reisisted shooting at all, and at worst would have save his own life and allowed him to return fire from a safer location. Either way, the suspect would have been much more likely to be contained.
Second Level, the first on scene supervisor: The establishment of a command center, and its location are key. Lieutenants arriving on scene established multiple command centers and did not communicate with each other nearly well enough. This allowed witnesses to fall through cracks, and valuable time was lost. By ordering a city wide response the on scene commanders did not coordinate the activities of those responding. The central elements of ICS were not followed the results were both unfortunate and predictable. Containment of the incoming personnel and proper direction of their efforts could have and should have been better communicated. Containment of all command efforts as taught through ICS could have streamlined the communications and reached the right results.
Third Level, the Command staff response: The Captain was contacted and after a very brief conversation did not arrive on scene or have further communication for a protracted period of time. The “Ad Hoc” swat entry team was improperly positioned. The truck was parked in front of the apartment in question in full view, and the entry team was not properly briefed prior to executing an entry. Containment of the suspect, and his ability to inflict more injury were paramount. Allowing the suspect the illusion he has not been discovered and catching him unprepared are paramount.
Lessons learned? The lessons are numerous on every level of policing. Containment at each level could have prevented the next from occurring or at the least prevented escalation. As a critical incident unfolds its so difficult to remember the hundreds of variables that must be taken into account, but if the ongoing theme that runs through each officers mind whether a top level command staffer or not should be “Containment”. Contain the threat, injuries, evidence, scene, and witnesses. A careful review of every Police department policy will reveal that at their base core that is the goal.
I cannot emphasize enough how much integrity and courage it took to reveal this report by the Oakland Police Department. The lessons we can all learn and the training that evolves from it will hopefully save lives.
Attorney Ronald A. Sellon