Armed policing


This page includes guidance on post-incident procedures, management, welfare and legal issues. The guidance outlines provision of accounts by officers in a broadly chronological manner and provides responsibilities for key roles. It also sets out approaches to organisational learning and debriefing. The information provided in this module is relevant to any investigation, whether carried out by the force’s professional standards department or by the relevant independent investigative authority (IIA).


Article 2 ECHR and the duty to investigate

The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) article 2 imposes a duty on the state to conduct an effective official investigation when individuals have been killed (or in some cases seriously injured) as a result of the use of force by the police. According to the European Court of Human Rights, the investigation must:

  • be on the State’s own initiative (eg, not civil proceedings)
  • be independent, both institutionally and in practice
  • be adequate and capable of leading to a determination of whether the force used was justified in the circumstances and to the identification and accountability of those responsible
  • be prompt
  • allow for sufficient public scrutiny to ensure accountability
  • allow the next of kin to participate, see Jordan v UK (2003) 37 EHRR 2.

The articles of the ECHR are contained in the schedule to the Human Rights Act 1998. These articles are therefore incorporated into UK law.

Purpose of an article 2 investigation

The requirements under European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) article 2 are relevant and can extend to any situation in which death or serious injury occurs during an incident or operation in which police are involved.

The essential purposes of an article 2 investigation are:

  • to secure the effective implementation of domestic laws which protect the right to life
  • in those cases involving state agents, to ensure their accountability for deaths occurring under their responsibility.

The investigation must be capable of leading to a determination of whether the force used was or was not justified in the circumstances, and to the identification and punishment of those responsible in appropriate cases.

Who will investigate?

Investigations may be conducted by the force professional standards department or IIA such as the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) in England and Wales, the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland or, in Scotland, under arrangements set out by the Police Investigations Review Commission. The Health and Safety Executive may also undertake investigations.

Effective investigation

The aim of an investigation into a police-related shooting is to:

  • ensure that the applicable law is properly followed and implemented,
  • ensure accountability when the law has not been properly followed and implemented, for instance, through disciplinary and/or criminal proceedings.

Independent investigations

The scope of the investigation is likely to be wide ranging. It will include establishing the facts surrounding any injury to or death of any person who may have been shot. It will also include the circumstances leading up to the discharge of firearms and all the issues surrounding this, such as managing and planning the deployment.

By their very nature, incidents involving the discharge of a firearm by a police officer attract public interest and can be highly emotive and stressful for all involved. As a consequence, the investigative function and the chief officer’s duty of care to officers and police staff involved must be afforded a high priority.

The chief officer’s duty of care to officers and police staff extends to welfare, physical, psychological and medical support. In addition, police staff associations have arrangements for providing advice and support to officers, including legal advice.

In facilitating these services, investigating officers, post-incident managers (PIMs) and staff association representatives have distinct roles. All officers, PIMs and those involved in any debriefing process should demonstrate integrity of purpose in all communications between each other and in record-making and debrief procedures.

Investigative function

In the initial stages following the discharge of firearms, the police service should take all appropriate steps to reduce any possible risks that the investigation may be undermined by any deficiencies, such as failing to secure the evidence. The procedures adopted should be designed to demonstrate integrity of purpose in all actions and discussions between the officers involved and, must be able to withstand scrutiny.

Nothing in this section should be interpreted as constraining effective action by the police service or the officers involved in adopting an operationally necessary procedure to secure best evidence, arrest or bring to justice those who may be involved in ongoing criminal activity, or a follow-up investigative process.

The responsibility for securing evidence and taking appropriate action in an article 2 investigation remains with the police service until the IIA takes over the investigation. The responsibility of the police force being investigated is to facilitate the investigation through, for example:

  • identifying and preserving scenes and exhibits
  • identifying immediately available witnesses
  • securing physical evidence
  • providing experienced family or witness liaison officers.

Early notification to the IIA will enable appropriate procedures to be adopted and initial actions required by the police to be agreed at an early stage.

Post-deployment procedures

Post-deployment procedures ensure that all armed deployments, irrespective of whether weapons have been discharged, are conducted in a manner which:

  • ensures the integrity of the legal process in respect of police action, persons arrested or evidential material seized
  • enables follow-up action related to any ongoing crime
  • identifies any operational or safety-critical issues in respect of procedures, training, weapons or equipment used
  • ensures individual, team and organisational learning takes place and is addressed locally and nationally as appropriate.

These procedures range from documenting outcomes to structured operational debriefing. The procedures are scalable and forces should apply them in a proportionate manner according to circumstances.

An auditable log of each armed deployment must be made and signed off by an appropriate supervisor or commander in accordance with force policy.

The National Decision Model provides a structure which can be used to address post-deployment issues and assist as a structure for any debrief process (see Debriefing).

Following the deployment of authorised firearms officers (AFOs) consideration should be given to:

  • the impact of the deployment on the community (see community impact assessment)
  • media management (see media releases)
  • the nature of any debrief to be undertaken
  • the requirement for an explanation or, where appropriate, an apology to affected persons.

The appropriateness and sequence of the above issues will depend on the circumstances and whether the criteria for a post-incident investigation have been met. If a post incident investigation is to be undertaken, the appropriateness of any of the above considerations should be discussed and agreed with the relevant investigative authority. Issues which become relevant when an investigation is conducted are set out in post-incident procedures.

Where the post-incident procedure is being applied in the context of a marauding terrorist firearms attack (MTFA), it may be necessary to consider some additional principles. The overriding priority remains the protection of the public and the preservation of life, whilst ensuring:

  • the effective investigation of terrorist activity and bringing offenders to justice
  • the maintenance of public confidence by supporting an independent, effective and timely investigation of the police use of force (see MTFA principles).

Post-incident procedures

The term post-incident describes the period following the discharge of a firearm(s) by the police, or where an investigation into police action is to be conducted. As with post-deployment procedures, these are also scalable. For example, the full procedure may not need to take place every time and will depend on the significance and consequences of the event.

The Code of Practice on the Police Use of Firearms and Less Lethal Weapons requires chief officers to ensure that operating protocols exist within their forces that define the action to be taken throughout the various stages of an investigation.

Criteria for post-incident investigations

Post-incident investigations will commence in all situations where there has been a discharge of a weapon by the police (including those involving a conventional firearm or less lethal weapon), whether intentional or unintentional which has or may have:

  • resulted in death or serious injury (these will be subject to mandatory referral to IIA)
  • revealed failings in command
  • caused danger to officers or the public.

Incidents which have revealed failings in command or have caused danger to officers or the public should be referred to the IIA as a voluntary referral. If the above criteria are not met, the force should still consider the proportionate application of these procedures, where appropriate.
Where police officers have discharged firearms and less-lethal weapons, it is in the interests of the public, police and everyone involved in the incident that subsequent procedures are open and transparent and demonstrate the integrity of all actions.

Initial action

Where weapons have been discharged or a person has been shot or seriously injured during an armed deployment, the force control room and/or tactical firearms commander (where appointed) must be informed immediately. Arrangements should also be made to ensure that the strategic firearms commander and appropriate chief officer on duty or on call are informed as soon as possible. The overall responsibility for post-incident procedures should rest with a chief officer or senior officer (who has not been involved in the operational phase). This officer is responsible for initiating:

  • the post-incident investigation (including informing the IIA)
  • post-incident management.

The relevant IIA should be informed so that a decision can be made on whether the incident meets the criteria for a post-incident investigation. Where an independent investigation is to take place, the information given to the investigative authority should include the action taken and arrangements made for them to commence a post-incident investigation.

Incidents not requiring investigation by an IIA may be investigated by the force’s professional standards department, in accordance with local procedures.

There are a number of roles specific to post-incident procedures. These are:

  • PIM
  • initial investigating officer (IIO)
  • investigator from an IIA or force professional standards department.

The responsibilities of those involved in the post-incident process, including the strategic, tactical and operational firearms commanders, are outlined in the post incident responsibilities section.

Immediate post-incident command considerations

The force in which the incident occurred should consider appointing an IIO. Where appropriate and practicable, any appointment should be made in consultation with the IIA. The IIO is responsible for taking early steps in the investigation prior to (and in preparation for) handover to an appointed investigator from an IIA or other department.

Initial command considerations

Following the discharge of a firearm, the tactical firearms commander (TFC) should initially establish what has taken place. This includes the extent of any casualties and taking appropriate action to ensure:

  • resources are adequately deployed to deal with the situation, including medical aid, welfare and operational and technical support
  • continuity of command of any ongoing crime-in-action
  • integrity of process in relation to securing best evidence
  • senior command and the IIA are notified of the event
  • the community impact is considered and, where appropriate, actions are taken.

Where there will be a time delay in the arrival of an investigator, a command decision should be made as to how and by whom the scene should be managed and investigatory issues commenced (for instance by appointing an IIO).

Priorities pending the arrival of the IIA

Before the IIA arrives, the priorities will usually be:

  • meeting any first aid and medical needs
  • establishing what took place
  • managing and protecting the scene in order to maintain forensic integrity
  • identifying witnesses
  • identifying key police witnesses
  • separating key police witnesses (if it is safe, necessary and practical to do so)
  • identifying and securing exhibits
  • managing community interest, including the media.

Managed transition

Initial arrangements should enable a managed transition from the operational phase of the incident to the investigation. In this transitional phase, close liaison between the TFC, the IIO and an officer appointed by the force to manage the post-incident process are important.

Initial actions of the strategic firearms commander

On being notified of an incident, the SFC should make an assessment regarding continuity of command and should take action to ensure command resilience. This may involve consideration of the command support that is required.

The SFC should also consider the strategic issues that need to be addressed in respect of the:

  • incident
  • community
  • police force(s) involved
  • service-wide considerations.

Responsibilities in relation to the welfare of all staff involved are addressed under welfare considerations.

Initial actions of the tactical firearms commander

The TFC’s actions will include establishing the following matters:

  • Is any person injured? If so, are they receiving appropriate medical attention?
  • Is there an ongoing threat to life or operational imperative that requires continued action from armed officers?
  • Are there any new or emerging threats or risks outstanding to any person?
  • What control measures are in place in respect of these threats or risks?
  • Are there any critical operational safety issues that require immediate attention?
  • Are any subjects at large? If so, what action is required to locate them?
  • To what extent have the original operational objectives been met?
  • What additional resources are required?
  • Have relevant scenes been identified?
  • What action is required to secure and preserve scenes and evidence?
  • Has an appropriate post-incident procedure been implemented?
  • Have key police witnesses been reminded of the guidance in respect of conferring?
  • Have arrangements been made to hand over to the IIO?
  • Has the force professional standards department been notified?
  • Has the SFC been briefed?

The TFC’s responsibilities will be relevant until such time as they are relieved of their responsibilities or the incident is brought to a conclusion.

Management at the scene

Threats neutralised, scene safe
When weapons have been discharged, officers should take all necessary action to ensure that threats are neutralised and that the scene is safe. Officers should remain operationally active until stood down.

Communication with control room
The fact that weapons have been discharged and details of any persons injured or killed should be reported to the control room and/or TFC as soon as practicable. Situational and safety critical information should be relayed as soon as possible.

Medical aid
Providing medical aid is a priority.

Secure the scene
Where possible, and without compromise to the security of officers and persons in the vicinity, action should be taken to secure the scene.

Secure firearms and ammunition
Securing firearms and ammunition carried by officers is an important part of the evidence-gathering process. Weapons which have been fired should, as far as practicable, be maintained in the condition they were in immediately after being fired, pending forensic examination. Where any police weapon has failed to fire, was discharged unintentionally, or is suspected of any malfunction, it should be isolated for forensic examination.

All firearms which have been discharged, operationally drawn or pointed during the operation should be identified, as this will be relevant information in the post-incident investigation. The IIO, in conjunction with the IIA, will determine which of these weapons need to be treated as exhibits.

Where a subject was in possession of a weapon and that subject has been shot, the weapon should be removed from them and secured. Any other weapons found at a scene should remain where they are located, unless this compromises public safety or the security of the exhibit. Wherever possible, weapons recovered at the scene should not be interfered with or made safe, unless there is an operational or safety imperative to do so.

Immediate welfare of officers

An officer who is or appears to be injured, traumatised or in a state of shock should have their weapon removed by the operational firearms commander or other appropriate and suitably qualified officer. This should, where practicable, be someone who has not been directly involved in the discharge of firearms. The officer removing the weapon should ensure the weapon’s security and apply a dual emphasis on safety and evidential integrity at all times.

Consider separation
The tactical firearms commander should decide whether officers who are potentially key police witnesses should be separated (see separation).

Appoint a scene manager
Appointing a scene manager should be a priority. The scene manager will be responsible for securing evidence, deploying forensic experts and ensuring forensic recovery in accordance with the forensic strategy. Where practical, any forensic strategy should be developed in consultation with the IIA.

Record information
Whether any weapons have been recovered should be recorded and relayed to the person who is taking charge at the scene. Where, for operational or security reasons, it has been necessary to take any action in respect of a recovered weapon, details of the precise procedures followed should be recorded.

As far as possible, the positions of officers at the scene of an incident where firearms have been discharged should be recorded. The deployment of AFOs will, however, often demand the rapid movement of officers. This may involve key actions being taken and weapons being discharged by officers from more than one position during an event which is developing in very fast time. In addition, officers may become involved in detaining a subject, action to search and secure any weapons found and/or in the provision of medical assistance. In these circumstances, precise and accurate recall of where officers were at each stage of the tactical deployment may not be possible.

Where there is an operational imperative to remove a person, vehicle or equipment from the scene at an early stage, the reason for this should be recorded along with their initial location, for the purpose of any future investigation.

Deal with police vehicles
Unless there is a safety critical reason, police vehicles in which the key police witnesses attended the scene are not to be removed without the express authority of the TFC or the IIO in consultation with the IIA.

Return to police station
As soon as is practicable after the scene has been secured, AFOs involved in the incident should return to a police station or other suitable location where post-incident procedures will take place. This will assist in securing the integrity of the scene, defuse any tensions at the scene and enable post-incident issues, including those of evidence and welfare, to be attended to in a structured and sensitive manner.

Safety critical immediate communications

Where officers have discharged weapons, they are permitted and may be required to relay situational and safety critical information to those involved in the ongoing management of the incident or operation (see providing accounts).

Post-incident management

During a post-incident investigation, the IIA will, at an early stage, wish to identify the witnesses and key police witnesses.

Witnesses may be members of the public, police officers or other emergency responders acting in their professional capacity who have witnessed the incident (whether by sight or sound).

Key police witnesses
Key police witnesses are police officers or staff who can give direct evidence of the circumstances leading to the discharge of firearm(s) or less lethal weapon(s). This is a flexible definition which must be interpreted according to the particular circumstances.

Key police witnesses may include:

  • officers who discharged weapons
  • those who immediately witnessed the discharge of weapons
  • those who authorised or commanded the deployment of firearms officers
  • those who provided tactical advice.

As the investigation unfolds, others involved in the police operation may become key police witnesses.

In the initial stages of the investigation all actions taken by witnesses and key police witnesses must be noted and carefully documented.

These actions will include:

  • the securing of evidence
  • any discussion undertaken between witnesses and other persons
  • any account given of the facts of the incident.

Prior to any key police witnesses providing accounts of what has happened, the following issues should be addressed:

  • relevant weapons and exhibits must be secured
  • welfare, including the offer of medical and legal advice.

Role of the post-incident manager

The PIM facilitates, manages and ensures the integrity of the post-incident procedure. Chief officers must ensure that arrangements exist whereby appropriately selected, trained, assessed and accredited PIMs are available.

When an officer has attended and satisfactorily completed a course of instruction based on the post-incident management module in the National Police Firearms Training Curriculum, they will be assessed as occupationally competent to perform the role of a PIM.

Chief officers are responsible for ensuring that PIMs are able to maintain their operational competence by regularly performing the role or actively participating in relevant continuous professional development activities. Forces should consider implementing an auditable period of shadowing, mentoring and performance review as a means of achieving operational competence.

Refresher training and re-accreditation

PIMs must undertake annual refresher training. This process must include any relevant National Armed Policing updates and refresher packages, together with local training which supports force and regional issues identified in the force’s armed policing strategic threat and risk assessment (STRA).

On completing annual refresher training, a PIM’s operational competence should be formally approved by the lead chief officer, or a person nominated by them, with responsibility for managing, commanding and deploying armed officers. Forces should maintain records of officers’ refresher training in order to show their continued competence.

PIMs must be formally re-accredited at least every five years, but consideration should be given to reaccreditation between three to five years depending on operational exposure.

Nominating a PIM following an incident

A PIM will usually be nominated by the force to which the key police witnesses belong. This will apply to any policing incident or operation, including those which cross force boundaries. Appropriate support should be available from the force in whose area the incident occurs.

Forces should consider the possibility of incidents crossing force boundaries and have appropriate joint operational force and regional protocols to deal with post-incident procedures. PIMs often perform their role as part of a PIM team, under the direction of an overall PIM.

Initial PIM responsibilities

The PIM should make and record an early decision on which officers and staff will be considered key police witnesses. They should take this decision in conjunction with the chief officer or delegated senior officer responsible for the post-incident procedures, the TFC and the IIO. The outcome of this decision will depend on the circumstances of the incident.

The PIM’s responsibilities will normally commence following the return of the key police witnesses to a police station or other area where the post-incident procedures will take place. In some situations (eg, where the officers are delayed at the scene), it may be appropriate for the PIM to go to the scene.

The PIM’s role is to:

  • facilitate the investigation
  • ensure integrity of post-incident procedures
  • explain post-incident procedures to key police witnesses
  • keep key police witnesses informed of developments
  • ensure that the key police witnesses’ needs are addressed in a manner which does not compromise the investigative process.

Key police witnesses should be informed of developments and provided with explanations of procedure, as well as obtaining the practical assistance they need.

Anonymity of officers

Procedures should be in place which consider the anonymity of officers prior to deployment and, if necessary, subsequently, should any shooting occur.

If there are specific concerns for the safety of key police witnesses and their families, anonymity should be addressed at an early stage. The PIM should ensure that action is taken to maintain that anonymity until it can be safely concluded that this is no longer necessary. If there is any uncertainty, the PIM should approach the chief officer responsible for the post-incident procedures for advice.

It should be made clear to officers involved that anonymity may have to be lifted at some stage, for instance because of challenge in subsequent legal proceedings.

Suggested measures to preserve the anonymity of key police witnesses include:

  • using anonymous references (eg, ‘officer A’) at an early stage (with a list of such references compiled for inclusion in documents)
  • securing and restricting access to systems and documents containing details of key police witnesses (with appropriate protective marking and other measures)
  • omitting officer details and identity from communications and circulations, including media releases
  • advising all officers of their responsibility to maintain confidentiality
  • advising the IIA, Crown Prosecution Service and other agencies that anonymous references have been used and requesting that anonymity be retained until the chief officer or the officer in question has had the opportunity to make representations
  • maintaining a list of the names of officers involved in the incident (which should be protectively marked as appropriate).

Where a pseudonym is allocated to a key police witness, this decision, and supporting rationale, should be recorded. A written record of the key police witness’s real name, and their associated pseudonym, should be maintained. This process should be managed, and decisions regarding anonymity considered and ratified by a chief officer. Following such ratification a copy should be provided to the IIA via force PSD as soon practicable and the transfer of this information between named individuals should be recorded.

Weapons and exhibits

On return to the location where post-incident procedures are taking place, weapons which have been discharged should be identified, as should all other weapons deployed in the immediate vicinity of the shooting. When weapons are unloaded and exhibited, consideration should be given to photographing or videoing the process. Where this is not practicable, a detailed record of the weapon’s state and the procedure used for unloading it should be completed. The handling and securing of weapons involved in the incident must be undertaken in a manner which maintains the forensic integrity of these exhibits.

All firearms, ammunition, less-lethal weapons and specialist munitions should be dealt with in a manner which ensures that safety, recording and accountability are properly addressed.

IIOs will, in liaison with the IIA (where involved) consider which weapons are required to be secured as exhibits and whether clothing should be secured or officers examined for forensic traces. It is regarded as good practice for this decision to be outlined to the officers in person. To avoid any dangers of cross-contamination, officers’ weapons should be secured by a different person from the one securing the subject’s weapon.

All officers involved in an incident are required to assist with the forensic preservation of their weapons and equipment. The PIM or officer coordinating collection of weapon exhibits will ensure that the weapons are unloaded and handed over to the appointed exhibits officer at the post-incident management suite or other appropriate location. This should be done in a controlled manner and by an appropriately trained officer. AFOs train with firearms while wearing operational clothing and regularly visit locations at which weapons and munitions are used and stored. Therefore, the evidential value of their clothing for examination may be limited.

AFOs do not have to await the conclusion of the scene examination before their firearms are taken for examination. Where a weapon is examined and found not to have been fired or is no longer required as evidence, arrangements should be made, in liaison with the IIA (where involved) for it to be returned to the relevant department as soon as practicable.

No dispute over who fired the shots

If there is no foreseeable dispute as to who fired shots, there may be no requirement for other measures to identify officers, however post incident procedures should still be complied with.

Measures, such as securing clothing or taking swab samples to forensically identify those officers contaminated by firearms discharge residue, will normally only be adopted in exceptional circumstances.

When an investigating officer considers it necessary to obtain additional forensic evidence from officers, the PIM will record the rationale and discuss it with the IIO. If the IIO requires additional forensic evidence from officers, the PIM will explain the rationale to the officers concerned and make a record in their policy log.

If clothing is to be taken, suitable alternative clothing must be provided.

Welfare considerations

The welfare needs of officers should be addressed throughout post-incident procedures. Considerations will include, but should not be limited to:

  • first aid and other medical assistance
  • securing weapons and equipment
  • providing refreshments
  • toilet access
  • making phone calls to immediate family members or partners regarding officers’ wellbeing and possible retention on duty
  • showering and appropriate change of clothes (provided there are no forensic matters to be addressed)
  • keeping officers updated regarding developments and how long they may be asked to remain on duty
  • access to legal advice.

Legal advice and support

Key police witnesses should be supported by their supervisory officers and given the opportunity to consult representatives of their relevant staff association as soon as practicable. Every effort should be made to ensure that early professional legal advice is made available in appropriate cases. This is particularly important where officers have used force as they may be subject to an investigation which can include potential disciplinary and/or criminal offences.

Medical examination

Officers and staff who were in the immediate vicinity of the discharge of firearms or other munitions should be examined by a registered medical practitioner as a matter of course, subject to their consent, as they may have suffered an injury of which they are not aware.

All officers should check for such injuries to themselves and their colleagues.

Where a registered medical practitioner is called to examine an officer or member of staff, they should be briefed about the background of the incident and the reasons for the examination. Any other information or personal circumstances which may be relevant to the examination should also be provided.

The most appropriate supervising officer to brief the registered medical practitioner may be the PIM or a member of their team. The content of any such briefing should be documented.

Welfare support

An incident involving the use of firearms by police officers which results in death or injury may affect those involved differently. It is not possible to say who may be affected and to what extent. Those affected, however, may include people at the scene and those who were directing resources (including control room staff and those making critical decisions). Officers and staff who have not discharged weapons or suffered injury may also be or appear to be traumatised or in a state of shock.

All officers and staff involved in an incident where firearms have been discharged by police officers, whether or not they are key police witnesses, should be able to receive support from the occupational health unit or a professional health adviser. This opportunity should be provided within 72 hours if possible.

Providing accounts

Following the discharge of a firearm by the police, there will be a requirement for those involved to provide relevant information in a number of formats. This will vary depending on the recipient of the information and the purpose for which it is being provided and who it is being provided to. It can reasonably be expected that the information initially provided may become more detailed or potentially alter as the circumstances become clearer.

In order to clarify the purpose and status of the information provided, it may be helpful to consider the provision of information and accounts chronologically as a staged process.
Particular circumstances of the incident may make it unnecessary or inappropriate to include one or more of the stages outlined. Where a key police witness is suspected of a criminal or disciplinary offence, stages three or four may not apply and the key police witness will no longer be treated as a witness. Where a key police witness is unfit to make a ‘personal initial account’, stage three will not be appropriate.

None of the guidance below is intended to prevent officers relaying operational and safety critical information to other officers involved in the ongoing management of the incident or operation.

Stage one – situation report

Following the discharge of firearms by the police, the TFC and/or force control room must be informed as soon as practicable. This notification is likely to be provided by radio communication from an officer at the scene of the incident. The information provided should be sufficient to provide a situational report which will enable the TFC to manage the ongoing incident, to assist them to discharge their post-incident responsibilities and to inform the IIA about the incident.

Stage two – PIM basic facts

The PIM is responsible for establishing the basic facts of what has happened. Where possible, this information should come from a source other than those key police witness(s) who have been directly involved in the use of force, (see initial post-incident manager responsibilities). The basic facts are most likely to be provided at the nominated post-incident location by an individual who is willing to supply them. The basic facts will be provided (subject to legal advice where appropriate) in either verbal or written format. A staff association representative and a representative of the IIA may also be present. It may be appropriate for the PIM to advise all of those present of the need to maintain anonymity.

The basic facts obtained by the PIM should, where possible, be sufficient to:

  • confirm which officers were at the scene
  • describe, in brief, the role(s) of those at the scene
  • confirm who discharged their weapons.

The basic facts recorded or received by the PIM should be confirmed with the person providing them for accuracy and should be timed, dated and signed by the PIM. The original record should be handed to the IIA at the earliest opportunity. A copy should be retained by the PIM and the person providing the basic facts.

Where the only person able to provide the basic facts has been, or may be, identified as a key police witness, the PIM should:

  • offer them the opportunity to take legal advice before obtaining the information
  • be aware of the need to take only basic information
  • record, date and time all information provided.

If this is the first account that the key police witness has given, it will be disclosable in court and any differences between this and the officer’s later account may be challenged.

Stage three – personal initial accounts

Subject to legal and medical advice, key police witnesses should provide a personal initial account of the incident before going off duty.

The purpose of the personal initial account is to record the witness’s role, what they believe to be the essential facts and should, where relevant, outline the honestly held belief that resulted in their own use of force. Detailed accounts will be made later.

So far as possible, personal initial accounts should include:

  • the officer’s identity (or pseudonym if appropriate)
  • the officer’s understanding of the nature of the operation
  • the officer’s role in the operation
  • essential details of the officers’ recollection of force being used (eg, the nature of the force used and what the subject was doing at the time the force was used)
  • if the officer used force, their honestly held belief that resulted in their use of force.

Each officer’s personal initial account should be written, signed and dated.

The same guidance relating to conferring applies to personal accounts and detailed accounts.

Stage four – detailed accounts, statements and interviews

Detailed accounts should not normally be obtained immediately. They can be left until the key police witnesses involved in the shooting are better able to articulate their experience in a coherent and detailed format. This is usually after at least 48 hours, but may be earlier for those key police witnesses not adversely affected by the incident.

The detailed account should include the witness’ full recollection of the incident including, but not limited to, the matters set out under personal initial accounts.


The IIA may wish to have detailed statements from witnesses. These statements may be taken by the IIA or be provided by the witnesses themselves. The manner in which the statements are obtained or provided will be decided by individual witnesses subject to the legal advice they receive. Where officers decide to provide their own statements, these should be submitted to the IIA within seven days of the incident (except in exceptional circumstances).

The police service should be guided by the Code of Ethics and operates on the basis of openness and transparency. This is essential to maintaining and enhancing a positive relationship between the police and the public.

Under the Police (Complaints and Conduct) Regulations 2013, the IPCC has a power to compel police witnesses to attend an interview. Where this power is invoked and the police witness is unable to attend an interview on the date requested, the witness must propose a reasonable date and time within five working days of the date specified by the investigator.

Police witnesses may be accompanied during the interview and cannot be compelled to answer questions. The manner in which a police witness provides their detailed account will be subject to the legal advice they receive.

Reference material

Reference material may include:

  • body-worn video (BWV) footage
  • incident logs
  • notes taken at the scene or during the incident
  • command logs.

Any available reference material, documentation and BWV footage that may be relevant to a death or serious injury following police contact will be essential to the subsequent investigation and should be secured and managed appropriately.

The PIM has responsibility for determining whether an officer may refer to an item of reference material when providing their accounts and should take all such decisions in consultation with the IIA.

There may be circumstances where there is a difference between what has been captured in reference material and what the officer has recalled and reported in their personal initial account. The difference may be understandable and may be explained in the detailed account, after they have viewed the relevant reference material.

Personal initial accounts

A personal initial account should consist only of the officer’s individual recollection of events. Key police witnesses should independently record what they honestly perceived, ie, what they think that they saw, heard and then did. The purpose of the personal initial account is to record the perceived threats and risks that led to the decision to use force, before this recollection can be affected or potentially altered.

There is no legal restriction on a key police witness viewing their own BWV footage prior to making their personal initial account. The potential impact on the individual’s perception and recollection of events, however, makes viewing such footage inadvisable prior to completing the personal initial account.

It may be appropriate for a key police witness to view or listen to other types of reference material, such as log information, and contemporaneous audio or written notes, before providing a personal initial account. Such material may have captured information that helps them accurately recall relevant and essential information as perceived and recorded by the individual at the time of the incident.

Detailed account

As a matter of general practice, a key police witness to the discharge of a firearm by police should be permitted to view their own BWV footage prior to completing their detailed account. This may reveal differences between what the officer initially recalled and reported and what was recorded by BWV. Any officer who finds themselves in such a situation may then be able explain any discrepancy identified in their detailed account.

There may be circumstances where it is appropriate for one key police witness to view another officer’s BWV footage, for example, where two officers were acting in close proximity and one officer’s BWV did not record.

Effects of trauma on perception and recall

A person involved in a traumatic or life-threatening encounter may experience a range of responses that may affect their perception, memory and recall of key events. These perceptual distortions may subsequently affect the person’s ability, immediately after the incident, to recall what happened accurately, including what may regarded as important details. Where, over time, officers recall further information, this should be recorded in a further account.


Officers and staff should not confer before making their accounts (whether initial or subsequent detailed accounts). It is important that key police witnesses individually record what their honestly held belief of the situation was at the time force was used. There is, therefore, no need for an officer to confer with others about what was in their mind at the time force was used.

This guidance should not prevent any officer from relaying operational or safety critical information to officers involved in the ongoing management of the incident or operation, however. If an officer does need to provide such information to another officer then, in order to ensure transparency and maintain public confidence, officers must document the fact that conferring has taken place, highlighting:

  • time, date and place where conferring took place
  • the issues discussed
  • with whom
  • the reasons for such discussion.

Separation of key police witnesses

As soon as lethal or less-lethal force is used, the TFC should consider and decide whether key police witnesses should be separated to prevent them from conferring. The PIM or responsible chief officer may review and supersede a decision whether to separate key police witnesses at a later stage, as appropriate.

Officers need not be separated as a matter of routine, and should only be separated when it is safe, necessary and practical to do so.
The decision on whether or not to separate key police witnesses should be based upon the consideration of three separate questions in turn:

1. Is separation safe?

Officers should never be separated unless and until it is operationally safe to do.

2. Is separation necessary?

The TFC may consider that separation is necessary to prevent conferring where there are reasonable grounds to suspect that either:

  • a key police witness has committed a criminal offence
  • a key police witness has committed a disciplinary offence


  • this guidance is not being complied with and officers may confer inappropriately.

Where there are no such reasonable grounds and where there are sufficient control measures in place to prevent inappropriate conferring (such as the presence of an appointed officer or representative of the IIO or IIA), separation is unlikely to be necessary.

3. Is separation practical?

If it is operationally safe to separate officers, and if the TFC decides that it is necessary to separate officers, they must consider whether it is practical to do so, based on:

  • the location of the incident
  • the number of officers who might need to be separated
  • the resources available to achieve separation.

The decision making hierarchy

Safety must be the foremost consideration. Where separation is safe, necessity should then be considered. Where separation is both safe and necessary, it may occur only where it is practical in the operational circumstances. For example, if separating officers is practical but not necessary, it is not required.

Separation should never occur when it is not safe under the circumstances.

Record keeping

The rationale for any decision to separate or not to separate key police witnesses should be recorded, together with the measures put in place to prevent conferring.


The Code of Ethics states that accountability, honesty, integrity and openness are key policing principles. Paragraph 4.4 states: ‘You will have to account for any use of force, in other words justify it based upon your honestly held belief at the time that you used the force’.

Police officers should ensure that all activity, including that which relates to the separation of key police witnesses and recording of accounts, is transparent and capable of withstanding scrutiny. Where an officer has concerns that the integrity of the process is not being maintained, they must immediately draw their concerns to the attention of the person in charge of the post-incident process and ensure that this is documented. Officers are entitled to legal advice and support.

Officers involved in the incident should avoid discussing the detail with officers and staff not involved in the incident, unless there is an operational imperative to do so. This is to prevent the possibility of uninformed rumour and to protect the identity of those involved.

Supervision by an appointed officer

A chief officer is ultimately responsible for initiating and managing the post-incident procedure. The chief officer should appoint an officer to supervise gathering officers’ evidence and ensure compliance with the guidance on conferring prior to their accounts being recorded.

This officer appointed should, where practicable, be of substantive inspector rank (or equivalent) and be an accredited PIM. They must be appointed in addition to the PIM and not have held an operational or investigatory role in the originating incident. Their responsibility for ensuring compliance with guidance begins when the key police witnesses arrive at the post-incident suite. It includes supervising those key police witnesses while personal initial accounts and detailed accounts are made (unless such accounts are provided during an interview or are recorded).

The appointed officer must fully record their observations and actions. The following support may be appropriate:

  • establishing who are the key police witnesses
  • ensuring access to legal representation/staff association or force legal services where necessary or requested
  • reinforcing the guidance on conferring to all key police witnesses
  • preventing any inappropriate conferring
  • ensuring that any reference material used by the officers is secured and handed to investigators against a receipt/exhibit number
  • documenting the process by which accounts are provided (including interruptions, breaks, abstractions and any conferring)
  • ensuring that all accounts are time-stamped by those making them as soon as practicable after completion.

Supervision by the IIA

Where access to the post-incident suite is requested by the IIA, such access should be provided. This access should be managed by the PIM, and will not relate to medical examinations or private consultation with legal or staff association representatives.

An early requirement for information

There may be circumstances where it is necessary for officers to provide more detailed information at an earlier stage. This could be to address issues associated with a person who is now in custody or in relation to an ongoing criminal investigation, (eg, where a person was not arrested at the scene).

It is the responsibility of each individual police officer and member of staff involved in the incident to ensure that any information that may be relevant to the investigation is reported, recorded and retained. This information should include each individual’s own observations relating to the incident and any accounts received from witnesses. Once those involved have been able to make their initial accounts, the PIM will make arrangements to secure these accounts and make them available to the investigative authority.

Security and welfare of officers

The PIM will initiate an early threat assessment to determine whether there are any security issues that may affect any police officers or staff involved in the incident.

This will allow the PIM to recommend that the force puts in place the appropriate control measures to ensure the safety of the officer(s) and, where necessary, their families. An ongoing threat assessment process will continue until it is no longer required.

Officers’ families and homes

Relevant force(s) should consider whether the families of the key police witnesses involved will require extended welfare, medical and professional support from force occupational health and welfare advisers. Forces should alert families to the possible reactions of those involved in such incidents and afford them the opportunity to discuss this situation.

The Police Firearms Officers Association (PFOA) offers valuable additional support and appropriate services to relevant officers and their families.

The security of an officer’s home should be considered at an early stage. The officer’s force should meet the cost of any appropriate measures, such as installing a panic alarm direct to the nearest police station and improved locks. Forces should have a policy on providing security and anonymity in appropriate cases.

Family liaison

In any incident where persons have been killed or injured as a result of police action, consideration should be given to the use of family liaison officers (FLOs).

It can also be beneficial to use these officers to support the families of police officers who have been significantly affected by firearms incidents, especially where the officer’s identity has become known to the public.


Defusing is a short and informal process designed to give immediate support to staff. It should be facilitated by trained people and take place as soon as possible after the event and, in any case, prior to concluding duty.

The defusing process may help officers and other staff recognise and manage the reactions and feelings that they are experiencing or may experience as a result of what they have been involved in.

Early support

Consideration should be given to having a suitable person (eg, a trusted colleague) assigned to stay with an officer who has, or appears to have been, traumatised or significantly affected during the hours immediately following the incident.

In appropriate cases, this person should subsequently accompany the officer home.

Special leave or suspension from duty

Special or administrative leave may be granted to a key police witness when appropriate. There may, however, be circumstances where such leave is not in an officer’s best interests. The officer and staff association should be consulted.

Suspension from duty should not be routine. When it is necessary to suspend an officer, this should be done in accordance with force policy. When it is necessary to suspend an officer, the suspended officer should still be able to contact colleagues in the police service (provided this will not compromise any subsequent investigation), and should continue to receive appropriate medical and welfare support.


An officer’s authorisation to carry a firearm operationally should not automatically be removed because of their involvement in an incident. They should also not be automatically excluded from firearms training or other related duties.

The force should make an evidence-based assessment in conjunction with the IIA, the force professional standards department and the occupational health advice provider as to when officers should be permitted to resume operational duties. This includes duties or roles in which they have regular access to firearms.

The chief officer responsible for firearms policy should regularly review (at least monthly) any decision to remove an officer from operational firearms duty, in consultation with the investigative authority.

Officers who have discharged their firearm must complete a mandatory occupational health post-incident support programme provided by their force.


Once an armed deployment has been concluded, a full debrief should be considered to identify opportunities for operational and organisational learning. Prior to officers finishing duty, the senior supervisory officer should also consider if there are any outstanding issues which need to be addressed.

Large or protracted operations should include arrangements for a specific debriefing session in order to learn lessons and identify promising practices or areas for development related to, for example, command structure and processes, tactics and/or equipment used. Document all debriefs.

Organisational learning debrief

It may be appropriate to undertake an organisational learning debrief when the criteria for post-incident investigation have been met and an independent investigation has commenced.

Organisational learning debriefs provide an opportunity to identify potential safety related improvements. Forces should use the information collated in organisational debriefs to inform a wider analysis of patterns and trends so that they can regularly challenge and improve methods and procedures.

Where conducted in the context of a post-incident investigation, careful facilitation and identified terms of reference are required in order to ensure that the matters discussed do not compromise the independent investigation.

Such a debrief should only take place after providing detailed accounts or evidential statements to the IIA and an indication that, having considered available evidence, there is no suggestion of criminal action or misconduct on the part of anyone attending the debrief. Where such criminal acts or misconduct have been identified this should be taken into account in determining whether a debrief is appropriate. Legal advice should be obtained as appropriate.

The IIA and, where required, the police senior investigating officer for the crime investigation relating to the original incident should be informed that an organisational learning debrief is being considered. They should also be provided with the terms of reference. Any observations or objections should be documented so that they may be considered when a decision is made on whether such a debrief is appropriate under the circumstances.

Is an organisational learning debrief appropriate?

Although any decision to undertake an organisational learning debrief while an independent investigation is ongoing will be based on the facts, in general terms the most likely areas for consideration will be:

  • safety
  • asset allocation
  • command structures and access to tactical advice
  • tactical capability to respond to an incident.

It is not appropriate to address the specific actions of individuals, evidential issues relating to witness accounts or scene and post-incident management during such a debrief.

The decision relating to conducting an organisational learning debrief should be taken by an individual who did not perform an operational or command role in the incident being debriefed. This decision and its supporting rationale should be recorded.

Who should conduct an organisational learning debrief?

The individual(s) tasked with facilitating the debrief should have an appropriate knowledge of local and national guidance related to armed policing and should be an accredited PIM who did not perform an operational or command role in the incident being debriefed. Where this cannot be achieved, a trained debriefer, supported by a PIM, should be used.

Record keeping

A record of those attending the debrief and a suitable summary of the discussions should be maintained. This summary should include identified promising practices and areas for development which will support the organisational learning and improvement. If officers have been anonymised, this should not be undermined by the debriefing process.

The National Armed Policing Secretariat has a responsibility for disseminating good practice and lessons learned. Forces are encouraged to submit early reports to the secretariat at

Documentation and disclosure

The originals of all documents and statements generated as a result of an incident must be handed over to the force professional standards department or IIA at the earliest opportunity.

All material obtained in the course of an investigation that may be relevant to the investigation must be retained for disclosure purposes.

Media releases

Subject to any operational reasons, a cooperative and open media strategy should be adopted. The media strategy should be formulated in consultation with the IIA. A clear factual account of the incident should be provided at the earliest opportunity. Care must be taken to avoid compromising any subsequent judicial proceedings. Consideration should be given to the appointment of a specialist media officer who has knowledge of the police service use of firearms, such as the nature of training given to officers, the guidelines under which officers may discharge firearms and the kind of firearms carried.

In circumstances in which a provoked shooting has occurred the detail and content of information released to the media should be carefully considered See, Suicide and bereavement response – media guidelines).

Precautions should be taken to protect the officers and their families from unwanted publicity. The PIM must ensure that, where practicable, the key police witnesses are informed of all media releases prior to their circulation, and that he or she may make representations on their behalf. This action may assist in prompting officers to consider their families and others likely to be affected by a media release and allow them to make early arrangements to cater for any foreseeable problems.

No information that might unintentionally identify officers concerned with the incident should be passed to the media and their anonymity should be preserved. In addition, sensitivity should be exercised in the completion of internal force publications or reports concerning the incident. Care must always be taken when using communications systems, including mobile phones.

Progress of the enquiry

The Police Reform Act 2002 (England and Wales) requires that all interested persons should be kept informed of the progress of the enquiry. Forces should put procedures in place to ensure that regular updates are provided. The host force should consider providing an ongoing PIM or force liaison officer (either full or part-time) to facilitate this.

Procedures for providing updates may include a meeting with officers involved in an incident, as soon as practicable after it has occurred and, in any event, providing the officers with terms of reference of the investigation within 48 hours.

It will be normal for the IIA to brief the force concerned on the current status of the investigation, usually not later than 28 days after the incident.

Post-incident responsibilities

The following is a summary of some of the post-incident roles and responsibilities referred to above:

The operational firearms commander:

  • remains operationally active until stood down
  • where practicable, reminds officers of the guidance in respect of conferring
  • in the absence of the TFC, ensures that the scene is protected and that evidence is preserved until the IIO arrives
  • ensures that the weapon(s) or perceived weapon of the subject is located and secured in situ, subject to safety and evidential considerations
  • ensures officers carry out a weapon safety check
  • liaises with the IIO and, where necessary with the scenes of crime officer, supervises unloading the weapons and identifies which weapon was carried by each officer.

The tactical firearms commander:

  • remains operationally active until stood down
  • where practicable, reminds officers of the guidance in respect of conferring
  • ensures that the scene is protected and that evidence is preserved until the IIO arrives
  • considers the safety of the public and police personnel and the immediate welfare of casualties
  • considers which officers are to be treated as key police witnesses (in conjunction with the chief officer or delegated senior officer, IIO and PIM)
  • considers whether key police witnesses need to be separated
  • ensures the transfer of AFOs to the relocation point and assists in identifying key police witnesses
  • establishes the facts of what has taken place and ensures that all relevant information is recorded
  • informs the force control room and the strategic firearms commander of the incident
  • determines the rendezvous point for incoming resources
  • briefs and formally hands over to the IIO
  • briefs the SFC.

The strategic firearms commander:

  • remains in a position to maintain command until the strategic intention of the operation is achieved or they are relieved
  • continues to be available to the TFC, if required
  • informs the chief officer or delegated senior officer of the incident
  • ensures all relevant information is recorded.

The chief officer (or delegated senior officer):

  • has overall responsibility for post-incident procedures
  • initiates the post-incident investigation (including informing the IIA)
  • ensures that the investigation and welfare procedures are implemented
  • appoints a PIM
  • appoints an IIO
  • assigns the appointed officer
  • ensures that the key police witnesses are identified
  • considers referral to the IIA
  • subject to referral to the IIA, agrees the media strategy
  • ensures that all relevant information is recorded.

The IIO:

  • has early dialogue with the IIA to agree responsibilities and key actions
  • opens a policy log and ensures all relevant information and decisions are recorded, including issues of anonymity
  • agrees initial terms of reference with the chief officer or delegated senior officer
  • identifies and preserves evidence
  • ensures effective scene management
  • considers which officers are to be treated as key police witnesses (in conjunction with the chief officer or delegated senior officer, PIM and TFC)
  • identifies and considers relevant national guidelines
  • liaises with the TFC on initial action at the scene
  • liaises with chief officers on media policy
  • liaises with and consults the PIM
  • makes early contact with the appointed investigator from the IIA
  • carries out those enquiries deemed urgent and those that may assist in the collation of evidence which may be lost prior to the arrival of the investigator from the IIA
  • agrees initial objectives in relation to forensic evidence
  • makes early contact with the pathologist (where appropriate)
  • liaises with the scientific support coordinator.

The PIM:

  • opens a policy log and ensures all relevant information and decisions are recorded, including issues relating to anonymity
  • considers which officers and staff are to be treated as key police witnesses (in conjunction with the chief officer or delegated senior officer, IIO and TFC)
  • establishes immediate contact with the key police witnesses and ensures that they are given immediate support
  • reminds key police witnesses of their responsibilities regarding the discussion of the incident with colleagues (see Conferring)
  • considers whether to assign a member of the PIM team to each key police witness
  • advises all relevant members of staff that post-incident procedures have been implemented and explains the PIM role
  • meets the IIO or any representative from the IIA
  • takes measures to ensure the physical and emotional wellbeing of the staff involved
  • considers the attendance of a doctor or health adviser
  • ensures access to telephones to enable officers to contact relatives or friends
  • informs relevant departments and agencies of the need to attend, if required (eg, the occupational health unit, doctor or FME and staff associations as appropriate)
  • ensures that any necessary forensic procedures are dealt with as early as possible and that officers are fully informed of the relevance of the procedures (eg, seizing exhibits)
  • facilitates the process in which police officers and staff provide initial accounts and ensures these (where made) are provided to the investigator
  • secures early legal advice or representation if requested
  • decides whether a key police witness may refer to an item of reference material when providing their accounts (this decision should be made in consultation with the IIA)
  • maintains dialogue with the IIO and addresses issues with them, including press releases and the progress of the investigation, to update staff involved.

Page last accessed 05 July 2020