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April 12, 2018

State police releases critical incident report and recommendations

April 12, 2018
Adam Silverman, public information officer
WATERBURY, Vermont -- The Vermont State Police has completed its review of policies and procedures related to critical incidents, such as officer-involved shootings, and issued a report and recommendations that include a number of policy changes.
At the direction of Col. Matthew Birmingham, director of the state police, the Critical Incident Administrative Review Committee began its policy evaluation on January 31, 2018. The committee was comprised of six members, including leaders of the Vermont State Police, the Vermont Troopers Association, human resources and the department clinician.
A critical incident involves an unusually challenging event that has the potential to create significant distress and can overwhelm an individual's usual coping mechanisms.  An incident of this nature can occur at any time. These incidents include not only the use of lethal force but also cases involving the untimely death of a child, a homicide, a fatal motor vehicle crash, the exploitation of a child, or a sexual or physical assault.
Among the committee's recommendations:
  • Increase the number of paid administrative leave days for a Vermont State Police member involved in an incident requiring the use of lethal force that results in injury or death. The committee recommends a minimum of five days of paid administrative leave, rising from three days.
  • Change the process by which a member returns to duty. Instead of returning to normal duty at the conclusion of three days of paid administrative leave, members now would return to administrative duty status following the five-day paid-leave period. Under administrative duty status, an individual will report to the office and perform non-law-enforcement functions as dictated by commanders, such as processing evidence, writing reports and being involved in special projects such as school safety assessments. This paid duty status, like administrative leave following an incident, is a routine procedure and not a disciplinary action. The member will remain on administrative duty until completion of an incident review by the Attorney General's Office and the appropriate county's State's Attorney's Office.
  • Establish a protocol to review membership on special teams for department members involved within two years in multiple shooting incidents or applications of force that result in a subject's serious injury or death. The recommendation applies to all special teams but is most applicable to the Tactical Services Unit. The committee noted that it had concerns with current practices that could place members in a position to employ lethal force within a short time frame of a previous incident and/or while legal review of a previous incident was ongoing.
  • Comprehensively address the mental health and wellness needs of members involved in a critical incident. The report and recommendations include guidelines set forth in "Officer Involved Shootings: A Guide for Law Enforcement Leaders," a 2016 publication by the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Many of these guidelines already are current practice for the Vermont State Police. The committee recommends continuing current practice while extending contact with members beyond the first month following a critical incident, including a monthly check-in with the member by a clinician for six months.
  • Improve procedures regarding the tracking and reporting of critical incidents by the Members Assistance Team.
"This is a first step in a very important process of reviewing our policies and procedures as they relate to critical incidents," Col. Birmingham said. "The report and recommendations allow us to protect the process for everyone involved, from the public to members of the state police. It ensures that our members' health and well-being is taken care of, while protecting public safety."
Birmingham added: "This report is a significant part of our ongoing evaluation of policies and procedures to improve how we manage critical incidents for the people of Vermont."
WHAT'S NEXT: Commissioner of Public Safety Thomas Anderson and Col. Birmingham have accepted the report, and the recommendations will be adopted in full. The Vermont State Police will develop new policies and change current policies as needed to match the report's recommendations.
At the same time, the state police remains committed to continually learning more and making improvements. Steve Ijames, a nationally recognized expert in the use of force by law enforcement, has spent time with Vermont State Police leadership and other personnel this week to make additional recommendations. 
The members of the Critical Incident Administrative Review Committee are:
  • Capt. James Whitcomb, staff operations commander.
  • Lt. David Petersen, professional standards commander.
  • Sarah Adams, human resources director.
  • Michael O'Neil, Vermont Troopers Association president. 
  • Lori Gurney, VSP department clinician.
  • Maj. Ingrid Jonas, Support Services Division commander. 

The full report is available from Vermont State Police headquarters.  

Please contact PIO Adam Silverman to arrange an interview with Maj. Jonas for further information.