Critical Incident Teams Part 1: Team Design
I love to see films or television shows where a detective or officer shoots a bad guy and then immediately leaves the scene to carry on with their investigation or other duties. Contrary to these depictions, police shootings are taken very seriously by departments. At a minimum the officer involved in the shooting will be on some form of leave (paid or un-paid). When a police shooting does occur a “special” team of detectives is assigned to investigate the circumstances of that shooting. Until the investigation is complete, the officers involved won’t be handling any other cases.
Critical incident teams (CIT) are known by a number of names but probably the most common slang label is a “shoot” team. These teams investigate deaths of individuals occurring in police custody or by police action. Put simply, if the police may, in any way, have had any responsibility in a death, these teams will investigate the circumstances of that death. These teams routinely investigate police shootings, deaths occurring during arrest control (handcuffing and wrestling a guy to the ground), or while in police custody. This may be either during a short term booking or if a convicted inmate is found dead in their cell. The only deaths which may not “automatically” be investigated by these teams are traffic accidents occurring during a police chase. Certainly there will be an internal investigation to see if the chase policies were followed but that investigation may not be done by a CIT, especially if the police car did not make any physical contact with the suspect vehicle. If the two vehicles did make contact then the CIT may be called.
These teams may be divided into two basic forms; in-house/internal or multi-agency. An internal team is made up of detectives and CSIs from the agency involved in the incident. Usually there are a mix of major case (homicide/robbery/narcotics, etc) detectives and crime lab personnel. All of the investigation and evidence handling is internal. A multi-agency team is composed of major case detectives from a variety of outside agencies within that judicial district but does not include any personnel from the agency involved. For example, I was once on the 18th Judicial District CIT. It was made up of agencies in four Denver metro law enforcement agencies. I worked on cases that did not involve my agency (sheriff’s office). These teams handle the entire investigation (coordinated with the District Attorney and Coroner) to determine if any crimes were committed by law enforcement officers and assist in understanding the cause and manner of death. All evidence is handled by another agency and not by the agency involved in the incident. This creates a layer of insulation from any bias or influence that the public may perceive from police during the investigation. I have written before on some of the challenges that may occur when multiple crimes occur during these CIT investigations.
In your novel you may consider how the formation of these teams might affect the investigation. What happens if an officer from one agency shoots a friend or family member from another agency? How will the public react to a shooting or in-custody death of a “sympathetic” victim? How will the media or community organizers characterize the police response? I’ll have another posting soon on how CSIs process officers involved in shootings and some of the conflicts that can arise. Look for that in a few days. Until then, if you have an officer involved shooting remember that there will be an investigation and one of the two types of teams will likely be involved. You may want to talk to the agency represented in your novel to see what kind of a team they operate.
Posted on October 29, 2011, in Characters and tagged CIT, coroner, crime, Crime Scene, critical incident team, csi, detective, fiction, forensics, murder, mystery, officer involved shooting, police, Shoot team, thriller, tom adair. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.