Should Police Get Extra Time After a Shooting to Process It?

In October of this year, Joyce Jackson called the Dallas police during an argument with her 52-year-old mentally ill son. She informed the 911 dispatcher that he was violent, throwing things, and had a knife. By the end of the confrontation, Officer Cardan Spencer had shot at Bobby Bennett four times, hitting him once in the stomach.

In the immediate aftermath of the incident, Spencer’s partner, Christopher Watson, said that Bennett aggressively took steps toward them with a knife. Bennett was charged with aggravated assault. Spencer did not give any statement at the time of the shooting, however his attorney would later say that “the facts and circumstances known to Officer Spencer at the time completely justify his actions.”

The next day, Dallas station WFAA News 8 obtained surveillance video from Joyce Jackson’s neighbor which disputed Officer Watson’s account. The video showed that Bennett moved away from the officers, stood with his hands by his side, and made no movements toward them.

The aggravated assault charges were immediately dropped.

This shooting came at a time of mounting criticism after a number officer involved shootings over the past year. Many have complained that the shootings were unjustified. Dallas Police Chief David Brown has instituted a number of changes which help to track and report use of force incidences, including reporting all officer involved shootings to the FBI.

His latest effort involves how and when officers talk to investigators about the shootings.  It is standard for officers to give their story of what happened at the time of the shooting. Chief Brown changed policy late last month, requiring officers to wait 72 hours after an incident before talking to an investigator. Furthermore, they  will be allowed to view any available video prior to making their statement.

Critics claim that the new policy allows officers to get their stories straight to cover for each other.  Chief Brown believes it makes good policy. He is not alone.

Dr. Alexis Artwohl is a behavior specialist and consultant for police departments. Her research has focused on the conditions during force situations, as well as the aftermath. She notes that in addition to dealing with a suspect, officers have to be aware of several things at once, such as their environment, bystanders and overall public safety. They often have just seconds to make a life or death decision, often while being shot at or attacked by a suspect. It is important to remember that these officers are subject to the same psychological and emotional stressors as anyone else.

All while carrying a gun.

In a 2002 article, Stress Reactions Related to Lethal Force Encounters, Dr. Bill Lewinski reports on how the stress of these encounters have many psychological and physiological effects, including physical changes in eyesight such as tunnel vision. All of these things can impair how accurately officers can relay circumstances in the immediate aftermath of a lethal encounter.

In light of this research, several police departments across the country have created policies which focus on officers’ psychological and emotional needs after a shooting.  In 2005, Denver Colorado’s police department created procedures that include immediate attention to officers’ needs after an incident. They point out that the pressure of an investigation, including possible legal problems, makes them particularly vulnerable to memory lapses and an inability to focus on details.  Oregon passed SB111 in 2008. which directed police departments in the state to create similar deadly force plans, which include specific procedures for evidence collection and interviewing.

These plans recommend a 72 hour waiting period for officers prior to talking with investigators.

It’s difficult to remember that police officers are still human beings with the overwhelming evidence in many communities of police brutality and the “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality highlighted in case after case. Whatever personality traits they may possess that may make them more prone to certain approaches, there is no doubt they are under a great deal of pressure. When lethal force is involved, their minds need a break.

Dallas police Chief Brown feels that the new policy will improve investigative efforts. The Dallas Police Association welcomed the change, having long wanted witnessing officers to view any available video prior to making statements, as is allowed for officers that fire their weapon. Chief Brown cited his own experience of having been shot while on duty, admitting it was two or three days later before he could accurately recall the incident.

Policies such as these can be frustrating for communities, many of which have an understandable distrust of the police. In the era of “breaking news,” it has become difficult to realize that real life isn’t an episode of “Law & Order” and the truth isn’t revealed in an hour. However, we understand that witnesses and victims often have trouble remembering details in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic event. Is it such a stretch to believe that an officer would have the same difficulty?

As for the incident that sparked the policy change, Officer Cardan was fired, and his partner Officer Watson was suspended for fifteen days. Bobby Bennett has filed a lawsuit against the Dallas Police Department.


Jim Ven
Jim Ven5 months ago

thanks for the article.

Jane R.
Jane R.2 years ago

Todays policemen are not what they used to be. In the past you could trust them to protect you, now they will kill you at the drop of a hat and have no remorse for doing so. The badge and uniform goes to their heads and they think they are above the law. All the videos we see of abuse of citizens who are unarmed, not resisting arrest, crying out for help etc. should be proof enough. Something has to change!

Brian Foster
Brian F.2 years ago

Tia Your ignorance is very disturbing. Next time a Swat team bust down your door, in a mistaken illegal drug raid, and shoots you, your pet, or a member of your family, then tell me how wonderful the police our. The police are no different then the time of Serpico, in New York in the 1960's. Serpico exposed their corruption, and got shot in the face, as a result. The police are cowards, and are all corrupt. They are paid thugs who enforce the corrupt laws of the rich, as we clearly saw in the Occupy Protest. They are almost never held accountable or sent to prison for their actions, when they shoot, and kill people. By defending them, you demonstrate your ignorance.

Brian Foster
Brian F.2 years ago

Tia If this was 1950, and the police arrested a black man for drinking in a white fountain, I would say that the police are corrupt. Just because we have laws doesn't mean they are right, and must be followed. Just as the racist laws were wrong in the 1950, when blacks were treated poorly, so to are our laws wrong today. Marijuana should not be illegal, and yet our police enforce these corrupt laws, ruin peoples lives, and send them to prison for a harmless weed. Tobacco and Alcohol kill 600,000 people every year, and yet they are legal drugs. Why don't your underpaid police thugs quit their jobs, and stand up to the injustice of our laws. Chemical pesticides give us cancer, and kill us, and yet your coward cops refuse to arrest the CEO's of Dow, and Dupont. Minimum wage is way to low, and millions live in poverty, while corporations, like Walmart make record profits. Why don't the police arrest the criminal CEO of Walmart who pays his employees poverty wages, and forces them to take food stamps which we pay for through our taxes. If the cops are underpaid as you said, why don' they quit their jobs, and stand with the Occupy movement and fight for real justice, instead of protecting the corporate criminals who pay their salaries. Their is no honor in being a police officer if you are enforcing corrupt laws that oppress millions of people. The police are all cowards who enforce the laws of the real criminals, corporate America.

Brian Foster
Brian F.2 years ago

(continued) come a police state, and we have very few rights. The criminalization of drugs like marijuana, and our for profit prison system that enslaves people for money, has made the police the thugs who enforce our bad laws. If these cops are underpaid as you say, why don't they quit their jobs, and stand for legalization of marijuana, the end of our horrible private for profit prison industries that tries to fill as many beds as possible, for money, and stand with the Occupy movement that wants the real criminals, the Wall Street crooks, and Bankers to go to prison, making billions ripping off the country, while our nation suffers. The 1% are the biggest crooks, and they never see justice. It's always the poor, black, or Hispanics who go to prison for petty drug charges, to make the nefarious Private for Profit Prison industry rich, by enslaving people. Cops are cowards, thugs, and bullies. They don't have the guts to stand up to our corrupt racist drug laws, our letting the Wall Street crooks get away scot free, our Machiavellian for profit prison industry, our laws against protest. Cops are thugs and crooks themselves who protect the rich corporate crooks who are destroying this country, like the dirty oil, coal, and gas companies that are polluting and destroying this earth. Like the chemical pesticide companies that are poisoning our vegetables, or the horribly cruel factory farming industry, that tortures and kills, animals, and injects them with poisonous drugs whic

Brian Foster
Brian F.2 years ago

T. I agree, their are some good honest cops, that work hard to make this world a better place. But even they work for our corrupt government that enforces bad laws. The Occupy movement demonstrated that when innocent protesters were pepper sprayed, beaten, and had their possessions taken. The problem is that when cops break the law, they are never punished unless it is on video. In Oakland, CA at the Bart station, a 22yr old was shot in the back, while he was being held down on the ground by two cops. The execution is on You Tube, and the cop got fired, and ony 2 years in prison. Anybody else would have got the death penalty. C2 focuses on unjust cop shootings or beatings to put the spotlight on bad police officers. A recent shooting of a 22yr old mentally disturbed man was captured on video. The video clearly showed, the man had backed away from the officers, and had his hands on his side, when he was shot. Absolutely no threat to the officers. The police department lied, and tried to say he came at them with a knife, but clearly that wasn't the case, as the video clearly showed. The cop was fired, but no additional charges were filed. Lucky, the neighbor had a video, or the police would have gotten away with lying. You say you are an animal lover. What if you protested the horrible treatment, and torture animals endure every day at factory farms, and the police were called and beat you, and arrested you, like they did the Occupy protesters, who did nothing wrong? We have be

Tia T.
Tia R.2 years ago

continued: the cop who is sent to help you doesn't know about your views of him/her. But you know, the cop would help you anyway.

Tia T.
Tia R.2 years ago

I come to this site because I am a lover of all animals. However, I am sickened by the rampant ignorance of many people (ex. Brian F) who lump ALL police officers into one group as "bad & corrupt" There are millions of police officers in the world and yet this site chooses to focus on the bad actions of a few. Why not feature stories of the lives they save or the officers who are killed in the line of duty? I assure you, the good they do far out weighs the bad many times over. It is no different than saying ALL people are bad because you read stories of the murders, rapes and other crimes they commit. Police work is a low paying thankless job. Not many people want to risk their lives for such low pay. Many commenters have said they need better training. I can agree with that to some extent as in the past several years due to budget & funding cuts the money is not there to do but so much. When you do a thankless, dangerous job for a living and have to deal with a bunch of loons as well as a people who want to sterotype you as "power hungry, corrupt", etc, its no wonder some of them do have a chip on their shoulders. Brian F. you can talk a good game by saying you wouldn't call a cop if your life depended on it but I have no doubt if someone armed kicked in the door to your house while you were in it and you were unarmed - if you were able, you would be calling 911 and praying for a cop to come help you. I hope for your sake that never happens and if it does the cop wh

Suzanne Michael
Suzanne Michael2 years ago

I'm afraid I agree with Brian F. most of the cops out there are just bullies looking for an excuse to shoot someone. In a town 25 miles north of where I live 6 cops with a dog and tasers surrounded a mentally ill man and rather than tase him or sic the dog on him they shot him down like he was Bonnie & Clyde! I don't remember how many times he was shot but it was reported on the news. As usual they all got off scott free, and there were a lot of wittnesses. This older man didn't have to die, they just didn't want to take the time to talk him down and have to deal with him. Thats their way of taking care of the mentally ill shoot em down in the street, problem solved! The cops we have today are the ones we run from ,not to, unless you're someone really important or wealthy. The rest of us and our animals aren't safe!

Brian Foster
Brian F.2 years ago

Who can you trust? None of them! I wouldn't call a cop if my life depended on it! I don't Trust these Criminals as far as you can throw them! They're no different from the criminals they supposedly go after.The only difference is their pretty hat,pants,shirts, ties,which is a pretty blue uniform,and a Tin Badge,along with all their pretty medals and doo dads! In other words they're nothing but phonies and bullies,and I'll add cowards, when they shoot or kill people when they do not derserve it! And it's getting worse and worse and worse! They'll find an excuse to kill anything that walks crawls talks barks and craps. You tube has dozens of examples of officers killing unarmed (often handcuffed and laying or sitting down) citizens who weren't even resisting, yet the cops keep yelling "quit resisting", in case someone recorded it so it gives them a 'get out of jail free' card ....almost always there is no punishment at all and virtually never any convictions because the prosecutors only file to keep people from rioting in protest and when/if it goes to trial they "phone it in" (which means they don't really try to win, just put on a show for the public) that way, when the cop is acquitted they can say "It was up to the jury, I did my part" even though they lost on purpose!