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Cooperating with Police

Know how to handle yourself when dealing with police in the aftermath of a self-defense shooting.


In a discussion about personal defense, there are many healthy conversations about guns, ammunition, gear, training, awareness and tactics. What is generally missing is any meaningful consideration of what happens after a defensive encounter. 

Following a dangerous encounter, whether shots have been fired or not, a person is going to be dealing with an enormous adrenaline rush, with emotions exploding to the surface. He or she may be flip-flopping between reliving what has just happened and trying to decide what should be done next. It can be a very confusing time. And, right in the middle of all of this, the police will be there wanting an explanation.

If at all possible, the armed citizen should not have a gun in hand when the police arrive. That is just a good way to get shot. Instead, if things have become peaceful in the immediate area, the gun should be holstered or placed in plain sight some distance away. If it is not possible to restore peace to the immediate area, the armed citizen should get as far away from the action as possible. 

The real danger occurs when the armed citizen is holding a criminal at gunpoint. It is a great idea to have friends or relatives notify the police that the crook is on the ground being held by a legally armed citizen. Still, there have been incidents when the police, armed with this information, have arrived at the scene and shot the good guy. For this reason, the best choice may be to let the criminal escape, put the gun out of sight and let the police chase him down once they arrive.

Simply put, having a gun in your hand when the police arrive is an invitation to disaster. You must understand that their adrenaline is also at an increased level and they can't simply look at people and tell who are good guys. The armed citizen must understand this and find a way to deal with it.

Once the attack is over, the citizen should use a cell phone to call 9-1-1. He should identify himself, ask for police response and, if blood has been drawn, an ambulance. It is wise to be as brief as possible in explaining what has occurred. A good example would be, “My name is John Smith. A man just tried to rob me and I shot him. Please send police and EMT to...”  It is really not necessary, and may not be advisable, to go into any further detail over the phone.

In fact, there is a good bit of disagreement as to just what and how much a citizen should say to the police about the incident. One school of thought suggests that, if it has been a justifiable shooting, the citizen should cooperate fully and answer any and all questions put to him by police investigators. The problem with this approach is that the person is still under the effects of adrenaline. In this situation, a person may very well get the facts mixed up, or use language or display emotions in front of the police that would not be advisable. And this is at a time when anything that is said or done is admissible in a court of law.

This is one of the reasons that some advise the citizen to exercise his or her Constitutional rights and say nothing. Upon arrival, the police must advise the person of rights before questioning about a possible crime. Advocates of this solution recommend that the citizen respond by not saying anything other than the desire to talk to a lawyer.

The problem with this approach is that the citizen should expect to be immediately handcuffed, transported to jail and locked in a cell. It may be hours before a lawyer becomes available. And, in the meantime, criminal charges may well be filed.

Another solution often offered is for the citizen to provide proper identification to the officers. After being warned of his rights, the citizen makes a very brief verbal statement, “That man tried to rob me and put me in fear of losing my life. I had to shoot him. I will be happy to talk to you at length about what has just happened, but I want my lawyer to be present when I do that.” The citizen then shuts up until conferring with a lawyer.

Not being an attorney, I won't pretend to explain the proper avenue in dealing with the police after a dangerous criminal encounter. Instead, I will strongly suggest that citizens obtain professional legal advice before carrying a defensive handgun. Legal training is just as important as training on the shooting range, maybe more so.

Also, the armed citizen should not get legal advice from just any lawyer. A real estate attorney really doesn't know much about criminal law. The citizen should seek out a criminal defense attorney, one who has a good reputation for dealing with criminal cases. This is the person who knows how the system works in that immediate area. He or she knows the investigating officers and the prosecuting attorney. This is the sort of lawyer who will know the best way to proceed. 

Now lawyers rarely work for free and that their services don't come cheap. Ideally, one would make an appointment with such an attorney and pay for a consultation. Listen to what the lawyer says about your defensive, the business of talking to the police and what to expect from the judicial system in the area.

If the expense of going one-on-one with a criminal defense attorney will put a strain on the family budget, consider forming a small group to meet with the lawyer and share the expense.  Paying a lawyer to come to your local gun club and give advice is also a good idea. 

Honest citizens should always be willing to cooperate with the police, but you should be sure that your emotions and confused state of mind do not cause problems. In short, you need someone sitting beside you who can calm you, help you answer questions properly and who knows how the system works. 

Getting proper legal advice is just as important as getting training on the range. And both should be done before you ever holster that defensive handgun. It's just the smart thing to do.

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26 Responses to Cooperating with Police

J wrote:
March 18, 2013

Let's face it, if you have killed someone even in a self defense situation you will be arrested. You will have a homicide on your record even if justifiable in self defense. We live in a world that is anti-gun and all about data collection. The worst will be assumed of you and you will have to prove you were the guy in the right. Everyone from the lawyers, the police, and the press will be twisinting the situation to favor the criminal.

Mr.Don wrote:
February 26, 2013

The previous comments confirm why the best option is to use your cell phone instead of a gun. If you must shoot someone get ready for more trouble then you can imagine.

Keith Crabbs wrote:
February 18, 2013

I see many things wrong with the infromation you have given in this article. I have personally lived this nightmarish hell in real life, and was found not guilty by a jury of twelve peers. The police will try to criminalize your actions immedately aligned with the 'governmental puppets' better known as the local news media no matter what the circumstance were for your need to use lethal force. Mine happened to be a gun wielding oonvicted felon, high on cocaine with a stolen handgun and somehow I was the criminal. Good luck plead the fifth get a good attorney and work your way thru the local polices effort to make you a criminal for defending your life...which by the way you not only have the right to do but the responsibility to defend yourself. Good luck shoot first answer questions later....live a long healthy life all.

Tom wrote:
January 31, 2013

I assume that in many states the laws do not permit using a gun in defense of a robbery unless there is a threat of injury. ( The author did not state the robber was armed or there was an injury threat). Without the threat the person being robbed would have serious legal if not criminal charges. Therefore call the attorney ASAP. Again, I'm not sure of this but would appreciate your readers comments.

Crickett Green wrote:
November 27, 2012

The cell phone is a really bad idea. It is not protected under attorney client privilege and will surely be confiscated and searched for information by the police.

R Strain wrote:
November 27, 2012

If you carry a cell phone you can get a app that will let you write down or even some will let you talk as a way to keep track of thoughts as they come to you.

D Thorn wrote:
November 26, 2012

This is a well written article. As a former peace officer I can tell you that most of the people that I have put in prison convicted themselves, because they didn't SHUT UP. It is best to give the basic information and note that you were in fear for your life and talk to an attorney.

gsl wrote:
November 26, 2012

the good sheriff was wise to suggest talking with a reputable (?) attorney who specializes in criminal defense. at last count there were 50 states in this republic with talk of adding one more. each state has their own laws. adding to the confusion is the fact that every judicial district within those states has prosecutors and judges who interpret those laws differently. as an example, let's say you live in colorado; west of the continental divide, prosecutors have taken a more conswervative approach concerning self-defense shootings, often giving the shooter the benefit of the doubt. if, however, you shoot another human being anywhere in extremely liberal denver or boulder metro you can give your soul to god because your butt will belong to the prosecutor for a very long time. laws are different from state to state, and interpreted differently from county to county within those states. consulting with an experienced local attorney is the only way you can inform yourself of what might happen if you excersize your self- defense option. even that opinion is not engraved in stone so be very careful my friend.

L. Resin wrote:
November 20, 2012

I am not an attorney. I am a retired officer and all I ever expected from an armed citizen is name, rank serial number and that the citizen told me he felt in fear for his life. After that, if the incident required that i take possession of the weapon, I would use a business card as an improvised receipt, writing a brief scription of the firearm on the reverse of the card. Each state is different and each officer is different. Be polite, identify yourself and keep your hand open and in plain sight and get a receipt for the weapon. Be patient and quiet, then get an attorney

Jim A wrote:
November 19, 2012

So people with bad memories should not carry guns? Have you ever been in a gunfight?

Ed wrote:
November 18, 2012

We in Florida are fortunate that a lawyer specializing in gun laws has published a very interesting and informative book, with lots of info about when its appropriate to use deadly force to protect self and property, and what's likely to happen to one who does. It's an entertaining and highly informative read.

V VERNAU wrote:
November 17, 2012

You write things down once you are home and the adrenaline has subsided. If you can't keep the details in your mind until you are free if potential 'searches', then I will submit that you shouldn't be carrying in the first place!

V VERNAU wrote:
November 17, 2012

I agree, the goal of the article was to raise awareness about how to deal with police from THEIR perspective. If you have never heard that part before, goal was met.

Kevin wrote:
November 16, 2012

The US Concealed Carry Association has, as part of your membership fee, a benefit called Self-Defense Shield, that helps pay for your attorney. If you don't already have one, they have a list of attorneys that are experienced in this type case. Go to www.usaconcealedcarry.com for more info

Paul wrote:
November 15, 2012

The title of the article is Cooperating with Police, not how to avoid legal pitfalls after a shooting. Getting the viewpoint of a LEO such as Sheriff Wilson is great. He is helping you 1) not get shot, 2) hopefully not get arrested, and 3)understand the LEO perspective. The real legal issues are going to take place between your attorney and the DA's office. I agree that a follow up article with general advice from an attorney would be great, but it's a good idea to see the situation from a LEO viewpoint, and Sheriff Wilson is providing that viewpoint.

Linda wrote:
November 15, 2012

I'm grateful for this non-attorney's article. Before he wrote it, how many of us knew much of what he told us? I thank you, Jim Wilson, for taking the time to further educate us to our own benefit. Laws do vary greatly from state to state. Our local gun group presents personal protection training and a local lawyer presented (for free!) our state's laws. Maybe your local group could do the same.

Vandamme wrote:
November 15, 2012

@ Jeff Gohsman Writing things down might actually give the police some "evidence" if they search you.. That would be the same as blabbering to the police without your attorney.. The notes are not protected by Client/ attorney confidentiality... What you write down, is fair game to the police.

Paul Hayden wrote:
November 15, 2012

I would rather be judged by 12 than carried by 6 any day.

Darius Saba wrote:
November 14, 2012

I have to agree with George Whitbeck. May we please be blessed with an attorny's feed back & opinion?

Jack wrote:
November 14, 2012

Anything you write down will be discovered when you are arrested. I don't think that's a good idea.

Steven Miller wrote:
November 14, 2012

Laws vary within each of the 50 States. Therefore American Rifleman would have to have 50+ Attorneys give you advice in each state and even local jurisdiction laws, not counting Federal laws. All you have to do is consult with an Attorney in YOUR area, and those rules are only good in YOUR area, until those laws are changed. That is why it is impossible for one Attorney to give you advice in the entire United States.

Stepcof wrote:
November 14, 2012

What? in other words, this is an article telling you "we don"t know what to do" ????

Buck Jordan wrote:
November 14, 2012

Yes! This article should have been written by a competent attorney. (Who is editing this stuff?) Don't waste my time with information and then follow it with instructions to see an attorney. I know less now than before I read the article.

jeff gohsman wrote:
November 14, 2012

Once the police have been called take time to tape record or hand write notes for yourself & atty. This is for your own use only. Write facts & observations. No guesses or maybes. These notes will help your atty and your memory days & weeks later

George Whitbeck wrote:
November 14, 2012

Shouldn't American Rifleman have a lawyer writing this? An article about talking to the police after a shooting immediately loses credibility when the author says, "Not being an attorney..."

PJ England wrote:
November 13, 2012

The Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network provides training on dealing with police following a critical incident. http://www.armedcitizensnetwork.net