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Draft Recommendation: Improve Critical Incident Response

Presentation to the Task Force

This revised draft recommendation was presented to the full Task Force on Monday, April 13, 2015.

Meeting Agenda and Details

Previous version of this draft recommendation


Responding effectively to critical incidents is about more than dealing with perpetrators, victims and crime scenes. Critical incidents can have profound effects on the families of those involved and the communities they represent. Addressing the needs of these stakeholders in a personal and professional manner and understanding the impact these events have on their lives is critical to fostering trust and good will between law enforcement and the communities they serve. Failure to recognize and address the diverse needs of families and communities following critical incidents may inadvertently cause alienation, misunderstandings and lack of trust.

Brief Overview of Process

In preparing the recommendations regarding critical incident response, the Community Policing subcommittee reviewed several policies from jurisdictions both inside and outside the State of California. Some of the recommendations put forth below reflect policies used in the past by local law enforcement agencies, while others were developed specifically in response to an identified need in the County. In addition, the subcommittee conducted several interviews with local law enforcement personnel and many community leaders regarding this topic. We also considered the recommendations put forth in the presentation to the Task Force by family members involved in critical incidents in the County.

Critical Incident

The definition of a critical incident is taken from the Sonoma County Law Enforcement Chiefs' Association protocol and includes:

  1. Intentional and unintentional shootings
  2. Use of force other than shooting that results in death or serious bodily injury.
  3. On duty LE fatality as a result of assault
  4. Vehicular collision involving pursuit which results in death or serious bodily injury
  5. Off duty act of violence resulting in death or serious bodily injury.
  6. Arrest or control by LE resulting in death or serious bodily injury
  7. Vehicular collision involving pursuit which results in death or serious bodily injury.
  8. Other special circumstances that could result in death or serious bodily injury.


A. A non-uniformed representative of the investigating law enforcement agency be immediately dispatched to the scene of any critical incident to act as a liaison between the officers at the scene and the family and community members present at the scene. The representative to immediately notify the O.I.A./CBO contact mentioned below in item J.

Rationale: The work of law enforcements agencies immediately following critical incidents can often be chaotic and disorderly. The importance of dedicated staff to help establish lines of communications and support for the families and communities involved in these events has been highlighted in the Task Forces' research of community policing. Involving the O.I.A./CBO family advocate early in the process prevents immediate suspicions from developing between the family and the LEA.

B. A civilian liaison remain on scene as long as the community is present.

Rationale: It is important that the law enforcement agency at the scene gauge the mood of the community before leaving the scene with community members still present.

C. Civilian liaison inform the community that a community forum will be held within 5-7 days of the incident and that they will be notified as to when and where the forum will take place.

Rationale: Rapid communication with the community is essential to avoid the development of rumors and conjecture. Open and honest dialogue goes a long way toward building confidence and trust between the community and law enforcement (LE). The understanding that a forum will be held to discuss the incident allows for a "cooling off" and lessens the development of resentment of LE and the specific officers involved.

D. Within 48 hours of a critical incident, LE meet with key groups in the affected neighborhood and/or CBO's that handle the type of incident (e.g. domestic violence, mental health,) to develop the plan for the community forum and the list of appropriate attendees which may include representatives from agencies that focus on officer conduct and constitutional protections (NAACP, ACLU, Los Cien, NAMI etc.)

Rationale: LE should proactively nurture and develop relationships with those who can, internally and externally, contribute to effective policing and responses to critical incidents. These relationships should begin to be nurtured immediately so that a point person is readily identified who will assist in the structure of the forum in response to a critical incident.

E. Any press release about the incident or investigation shall be immediately posted on the LE webpage at the same time that it is released to the media.

F. All available information (including any video and dispatch tape of the incident) be share with the community within 7 days of the incident or the specific reasons shall be publicly given as to why such information cannot be shared.

Rationale: The vast majority of information is known within the first four days of an incident. Where more information is released immediately, more confidence in LE is generated. This may require a change in philosophy particularly as it relates to advice from legal counsel.

G. The top official of the LEA involved issue a statement of apology, condolence or regret (this is not an admission of liability) as appropriate to the community and affected family within 48 hours.)

Rationale: LE can be absolutely sorry the incident took place without admitting fault. Expressions of sympathy can go a long way toward strengthening the community/LE relationship.

H. The family be provided a list of service providers (counselors, etc) and funds, if necessary, to engage such providers.

Rationale: Family members of those involved in critical incidents are often in need of services and support in coping with the death or injury of their loved one. Funding can be a hindrance in obtaining such support. Facilitating and promoting connections with local service providers builds support and trust between the family and LEAs.

I. Within 12 hours of the incident the family be provided with a phone number for direct access to the LE representative who will act as a liaison between the family and the LEA. In addition to being a liaison, the representative shall have the following duties:

a. To assure that LE treats the family with dignity and respect
b. To arrange for a rental car or replacement phone if these have been retained for investigative reasons.
c. To provide investigative updates to the family ahead of any press releases or other disclosures to the media and public.
d. To personally deliver a copy of the incident report to the family as soon as it is deemed complete and offer to arrange a meeting with the family ( and their lawyer if they have retained one) and the LE person knowledgeable about the investigation to answer questions about the incident.
e. To otherwise assist the family as needed.

Rationale: One of the major concern from families of victim's of critical incidents is the lack of information they receive and the feeling that they are being treated as suspects. This heightens mistrust and resentment at a time when cooperation is essential to the effective investigation of the incident.

J. A family advocate be provided by the OIA Citizens Advisory Committee through a contract with a local CBO to assist the family with any concerns they may have regarding LEA's response to the incident.

Rationale: To assure that the LEA is responsive to the family and guide the family through interfaces with LE, a family advocate, other than an attorney, can mediate the interactions and help to improve the relationship between LE and the family.

K. A meeting between the officer involved and the family (where the family desires such a meeting and the officer is amenable to one) mediated by an appropriate neutral party take place.

Rationale: It is harder to demonize people when you meet them face to face. Personal contact in a controlled mediation allows for exchanges that cannot take place in an adversarial forum, potentially increasing feelings of empathy between the officer and the family.

Resources needed

It is assumed that critical incidents will be few and that current employee levels should be adequate to supply the site representative and family liaison when needed. However, some overtime pay may be required.

Minimum funds may be required for notice and site preparation for the community forum. The fund for assistance with counseling, burial etc. shall not exceed $20,000.

Timeline/implementation recommendation


Performance indicator(s)


Additional considerations/alternatives explored


Contact Information

Business Hours
Monday – Friday
8:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Sonoma County Administration Building
575 Administration Drive
Room 104A
Santa Rosa, CA 95403