“Radio, send EMS, a supervisor and my lawyer!”

I recently received a request for a post regarding on-scene response for attorneys. This is one of my favorite topics, and I gave a presentation on this issue to the Annual General Counsel’s Conference for the Fraternal Order of Police a few years ago.

As you know, I strongly encourage LEOs to have an attorney respond to critical incidents. This advice extends to more than officer involved shootings. For instance, an on-duty car wreck that results in serious injuries should prompt an on-scene response. This also applies to any in-custody death of a suspect.

Having an attorney respond to the scene does not happen without some advanced planning. My home FOP lodge, Georgia State Lodge 13, is developing a “critical incident card” with emergency phone numbers. Many LEOs simply provide the numbers for counsel to their 911 center. I have also been flattered to hear that I am “on speed dial” for many LEOs! However you decide to structure the system, make certain you are able to contact the attorney of your choice on a 24 hour basis.

Calling your favorite member of the bar at 3:00 am is only half of the equation. Will he be able to get to the scene? Does he have credentials to get through the outer perimeter? Does he have a good working relationship with your command staff? Most important, does your command staff view your attorney on the scene as a good thing or a sign of the apocalypse?

Here are several important points of any plan that will help provide the LEOs in your agency with an on-scene response from an attorney.

  1. Make certain you can contact your attorney 24 hours per day. You work morning watch. Your attorney should also.
  2. Provide a system that will allow others to contact your counsel for you. You may be injured, your cell phone may be disabled after a fight or you may be on an inner perimeter for an extended period of time after a shooting.
  3. Provide your counsel some type of credentials. This can be a business card or an identification card with a photo.
  4. Discuss the on-scene response of an attorney with your chain of command. Let them know that your intent is to protect the agency and the individual LEO.
  5. Incorporate the on-scene response of counsel into your critical incident plans.

I have represented several LEOs who shot unarmed suspects. They all involved the lawful use of deadly force. In each of those cases, I heard from command staff who were happy to have me there. My presence was the result of planning and coordination.

In a future article, I’ll discuss how to secure on-scene counsel if you use deadly force outside of your jurisdiction while carrying a firearm pursuant to the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act. In February 2011, I will attend the Annual General Counsel’s Conference for the Fraternal Order of Police. I plan to suggest a national hotline to assist LEOs who are out of state when they are involved in a shooting.

Stay safe.

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