In this edition of the Police Officers Association of Michigan’s podcast, Douglas Gutscher explains critical incident protocol in order to help police officers understand their rights after such an incident has occurred. Gutscher, a 10-year POAM veteran, currently handles all aspects of labor law for POAM and serves as Criminal Representation of officers when they’ve been charged.

What is a critical incident?

A critical incident is any incident that may result in a criminal investigation or serious rules violation. This includes, a death in custody, injuries that may occur while in the process or an arrest, or even the discharge of a weapon. In order to be prepared if such an incident does occur, associations need to educate their officers on exactly who to contact, what their rights are and that all processes are properly followed. POAM has a 24-hour hotline with an attorney available 356 days per year, if there’s a situation after hours and the officer can’t contact his association.

When should I give my statement?

Critical incident statements are given at the scene (whether ongoing or ended). At that point in time, the officer’s first inclination is to go ahead and tell every detail of what happened. However, we actually advise against that:
In an ongoing situation, make sure you have a union representative present to protect the statement that’s being made, when you do give it, and that you understand exactly what that situation is being used for.
In a closed situation again, make sure your union representative is present so your rights aren’t violated and the contract is followed. This allows the officer involved to collect his thoughts.

What is a voluntary statement?

A voluntary statement is any unprotected statement that you’ve made to anyone- you haven’t been compelled to make that statement. That statement can then be used against you both internally and in a criminal proceeding. Internally, blanket advice is to remain silent until ordered which protects an officer from having their statement used against them. You won’t be disciplined for invoking your right to remain silent and you won’t be charged with hindering an investigation. No one can be forced to give up his or her constitutional rights. Now, if your department compels you to give that statement, at that time you must do so or face discipline up to and including termination.

More in the POAM podcast

Listen to the rest of the podcast with Douglas Gutscher to hear more on Garrity Protection and Garrity protocol. Gutscher also addresses, in more detail, officer rights in regards to statements and their use in criminal cases, testifying, absent use immunity and potential dilemmas that may occur in various situations. It is POAM’s goal to advise all individuals on their rights and provide the best advice possible for any predicament that may come to hand.