University of California Santa Cruz Police Department
UC Santa Cruz PD Policy Manual



Critical Incident Protocol


When a sworn peace officer is involved in a situation resulting in a death or a substantial risk    to human life, the resulting investigation is frequently more complex and demanding than such incidents not involving law enforcement officers. This protocol is intended to provide guidance  to Santa Cruz County law enforcement agencies in the investigation of these cases which are termed Critical Incidents.

The challenge of investigating a Critical Incident is heightened not only by the complicated nature of the case but also the fact that these events frequently involve multiple witnesses and more than one police jurisdiction. Events may occur in rapid order. The fast pace of the investigation, differing agency Investigative procedures, and the need for immediate decision also impact the situation. A protocol in which the frame work for Critical Investigations has been thought through in advance of that event can be of an enormous assistance.

This protocol was developed to aid Santa Cruz County agencies with the criminal investigation of an Officer Involved Critical Incident. Its goals are to assure that:

  • Such cases are fully and fairly investigated;
  • Proper disposition of such cases is based upon all the legal relevant evidence available; and
  • The rights of all those affected are respected.

The protocol does not cover any separate administrative investigation of a Critical Incident. Administrative investigations are within the: complete control of the agency employing the involved officer. These administrative investigations are intended to deal with internal issues such as compliance with agency regulation and claims which might be made against the officer or the employing agency. To the extent possible, the criminal investigation conducted pursuant to this protocol shall be kept separate from any contemporaneous administrative review.

While this document represents the understanding and agreement among member agencies as to how such cases are to be investigated, the Protocol:

 (a) Permits agencies to make modifications in order to meet individual agency regulations,

 (b) Is not intended to increase the civil or criminal liability of member agencies or their employees, and

 (c) Shall not be construed to create any mandatory obligations to, or on behalf of, third parties.


310.1.1     GENERAL POLICY

As would be the case with any criminal investigation into a death or near death, each Critical Incident Investigation will be performed to develop all available, relevant information about the Critical Incident. It will be handled in a manner which provides for a thorough and credible investigation that is free of conflicts-of-interest or the appearance of them. The purpose of any Critical Incident Investigation is to:

(a) Determine whether or not a crime occurred; and

(b) If a crime did occur, determine the identity of the person(s) legally responsible.

Each investigation shall be performed in a manner consistent with the rights of all affected parties. The investigation of each Critical Incident will commence as promptly as practicable after the occurrence.


310.1.2     DEFINITIONS

(a) Critical Incident-Is any incident in which:

  1. A law enforcement agency's sworn and civilian employees, including reserves, cadets and volunteers,
  2. Acting under color of authority,
  3. Are directly involved,
  4. Where death or the substantial risk of death results.

(b) Examples of such incidents Include:

  1. Intentional and accidental shootings or discharge of firearms. (The Venue Agency or the Employing Agency has the option of requesting the response of the Critical Incident Management Team for missed shots.)
  2. Intentional use of any other deadly or dangerous weapons,
  3. Any intentional act on the part of an employee which proximately causes death of another or Injury likely to produce death.
  4. Death of person while in custody or under law enforcement agency control other than while incarcerated in a county jail facility.
  5. Vehicular Collisions.

(c) Peace Officer, Officer - As used herein, the terms "peace officer" and, simply " officer" are used interchangeably and encompass the sworn personnel of United States law enforcement agencies, including:

  1. Local law enforcement' agencies, including, but not limited to, Municipal Police Departments, Sheriffs' Offices. District Attorneys' Offices and County Probation Departments.
  2. State law enforcement agencies, for example: CHP, DOJ, University Police Departments, State Parole and State Parks.
  3. Federal law enforcement agencies. for example: FBI, ATF, U.S. Marshall, Customs, Border Patrol and Secret Service.

(d) Employing Agency-Is the law enforcement agency by which the Subject Officer is employed.

(e) Subject Officer-Is the sworn law enforcement officer(s) directly involved in the Critical Incident's sequence of events to such an extent that he/she/they may have been a "proximate cause" of the harm or threat of harm to another person.

(f) Proximate Cause-Is a cause which, in a natural and continuous sequence, produces the death or creates the substantial risk of a death, and without which cause, the death or substantial risk of a death would not have occurred.

(g) Critical Incident Investigators-Are the persons assigned by the Critical Incident Management Team.

(h) Venue Agency-Is the agency, or agencies, within whose geographic jurisdiction the "Critical Incident" occurs.


310.1.3     VENUE AGENCIES

The venue agencies for the following areas are designated as follows:

(a) Santa Cruz County Sheriff-Coroner:

  1. All unincorporated areas of the County (including other legal entities and districts)
  2. Sheriff's custodial facilities within Santa Cruz limits, including Water Street, Blaine Street and those portions of the County Governmental Center which constitute the courts building and the Board of Supervisors Chambers.
  3. Sheriff's custodial facilities within Watsonville City limits, including, but not limited, that facility located in the County Courthouse at 1430 Freedom Boulevard and the courtroom.
  4. The California Youth Authority Facility, Ben Lomond.
  5. Santa Cruz County Probation Department (Graham Hill Complex)

(b) Santa Cruz Police Department:

  1. All incorporated areas of the City of Santa Cruz (Including other legal entities and districts) except as listed above.

(c) Scotts Valley Police Department:

  1. All incorporated areas of the City of Scotts Valley (including other legal entities and districts).

(d) Capitola Police Department:

  1. All incorporated areas of the City of Capitol a (including other legal entities and districts).

(e) Watsonville Police Department:

  1. All incorporated areas of the City of Watsonville (including other legal entities and districts) except as listed in (a, 3) above.

(f) University of California Police-Santa Cruz:

  1. All areas within the boundaries of the University of California (including other legal entities and districts).

(g) California Highway Patrol:

  1. All incidents involving a fatal traffic collision on any public or private road.



(a) Mobilization of the Critical Incident Management Team

  1. The on-scene agency(s) will review the available facts and make a preliminary determination of whether this Protocol may apply.
  2. If it is preliminarily determined that this Protocol may apply, then the on-scene agency(s) will make a preliminary decision designating the Venue Agency, and any other agency directly involved.
  3. The on-scene agency(s) will Immediately contact the Venue Agency's watch commander to advise him/her of the facts and the necessity of initiating the procedure to call together a Critical Incident Management Team.
  4. The Venue Agency's watch commander will notify the appropriate individuals within his/her chain of command, including the managers empowered to invoke this Protocol.
  5. The Venue Agency will invoke the Protocol and initiate a call to other identified agencies, convey the facts underlying the call out and ask each agency to send its assigned Critical Incident Management Team member to a designated location.

(a) The Venue Agency will note, in writing, the identities of each agency representative who responds.

(b) Composition of the Critical Incident Management Team

(a) The Management Team will be comprised of one management level representative from each of the following: the Venue Agency, the Employing Agency (if different from the other here enumerated agencies), the Office of the District Attorney, and the Sheriff-Coroner's Office.

(a) In the event that any law enforcement agency I not a signatory to this Protocol, has an employee who is a subject officer in the Critical Incident, that agency shall have a management-level representative on the Critical Incident Management Team.

(b) All members of the Management Team shall have authority to make policy decisions and commit resources on behalf of their employing agencies without further inquiry.

(a) Each signatory agency will maintain a list of its own personnel who satisfy this criteria. Signatory agencies will ensure that their lists are available  to those persons likely to receive a call to initiate the Critical Incident Management Team.

(c) The representative from the Venue Agency will be in charge of the team and will be designated the "Critical Incident Commander."

(d) The Venue Agency may elect to cede the role of Critical Incident Commander to another member of the Critical Incident/Management Team.

(e) Critical Incident Management Team members will initially meet at the Venue Agency's office unless instructed to the contrary.

(f) The Critical Incident Management Team will make the final determination of the Venue Agency.

(g) The Critical Incident Management Team shall have the authority to call upon the resources of the signatory agencies.

(h) The Critical Incident Management Team will establish a command post.

(i) The Critical Incident Management Team wilt manage and direct the investigation utilizing Venue Agency resources as much as possible (personnel, equipment and money).



(a) Until a Critical Incident Management Team designates the Critical Incident Investigative Team and that Team begins to assume investigative responsibility, immediate investigative responsibility will rest with the Venue Agency.

  1. The Venue Agency may defer this investigative authority to the Employing Agency if all of the following are determined at the time of the Critical Incident:

(a) The subject officer was on duty,

(b) The subject officer was in the performance of official duties, and

(c) The subject officer was acting in connection with a criminal matter originating in the Employing Agency.

(b) Responsibility for the Critical Incident Scene

  (a) Under the direction of and reporting to the Critical Incident Management Team and its Lead Investigator, the Venue agency will follow its normal procedures in securing the scene, identifying, isolating and interviewing witnesses.

(b) Pursuant to this, the Venue agency will start a chronological log of activity including, but not limited to, time received, arrived, responding units, when call- outs made, etc.

(c) Designation of the Lead Critical Incident Investigator

(a) The Critical Incident Management Team will determine the identity of the lead Critical Incident Investigator. Normally the Lead Investigator will be an employee of the Venue Agency who has sufficient training, and experience to run the Critical Incident Investigation.

(d) The Lead Critical Incident Investigator shall report and be responsible to the Management Team for his/her handling of the investigation. The Lead Investigator, through individual Management Team members, may call upon the various investigative resources of the other Agencies comprising the Management Team. The Lead Investigator will be given the authority to conduct the Critical Incident Investigation as he/she sees fit, subject to the direction and control of the Management Team.

(e) In Critical Incidents where a vehicular collision or other vehicular movement is involved, the California Highway Patrol may be, called upon for investigatory assistance in that phase of the Critical Incident Investigation.

(f) District Attorney's Role in the Investigation

(a) The District Attorney, or his designated Deputy, will assist and advise the Lead Critical Incident Investigator on the various relevant legal issues (including,   for example, search and seizure, Miranda, Identification procedures, arrests, elements of crimes, immunity, and voluntariness) and assist the police investigation as a member of the Critical Incident Management Team.

(b) Following completion of the investigation, the District Attorney will determine if criminal liability exists, and prosecute as appropriate.

(a) The District Attorney also has the right to perform his/her own investigation of the critical incident, independent from the police investigation. If such an independent investigation is being conducted, the District Attorney will notify the Critical Incident Management Team and the Venue Agency, except if notification would compromise the integrity of the independent investigation.

(b) A District Attorney Investigator assigned to participate as a Critical Incident Investigator assisting or teamed with a Venue Agency Critical Incident 

Investigator will not be a member or participant of an independent District Attorney investigation unless the Venue Agency is notified of such a dual role.



One obligation of the Critical Incident Management Team is to ensure the consistent and fair treatment of all persons involved-including law enforcement employees who are involved in critical incidents, maintain the integrity of the investigations, and ensure the proper handling of evidence. Therefore, the Critical Incident Management Team and its Investigators should:

(a) If at all possible, avoid taking the subject officer to the same medical facility as the suspect.

(b) Ask the subject officer if he or she wishes to have another officer stay with him/her (one not involved in the Critical Incident).

(c) Explain the investigative process to the subject officer(s), review this Protocol with them and give them a copy of it.

(d) Separate subject officers, if there are two or more of them, as soon as possible after the Critical Incident.



The goal of the evidence collection is to ensure that all items relevant, or possibly relevant, to a critical incident are located, collected and preserved; that the items be analyzed by a criminologist or forensic professional as soon as possible; and that the chain of evidence is established and remains clear through storage, analysis, and presentation to administrators, boards and the courts.

(a) Crime scene evidence collection shall be the responsibility of the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office Crime Scene Investigation Unit.

  1. All of the firearms, which have been used and all ammunition which the officer is carrying, should be collected for testing.

(a) Collection of the firearm, magazines and entire gun belt should be done in an ''as is" condition and collected as soon as is reasonable.

(b) If at all possible, officers will not be relieved of their guns in front of other people.

(c) If at all possible, at the time officers are relieved of their guns, the on-scene supervisor will replace the guns with substitutes.

(b) The subject officer(s) uniform condition should be documented.

(a) Photographs should be taken of the officer in his/her uniform in cases where official ID may be challenged

(b) In cases where there may be evidence on the uniform, the uniform should be collected as evidence.

(c) All evidence will be booked at the Sheriff's Office.

(d) The District Attorney's Office will review the collected evidence within 72 hours.

(a) The District Attorney and the Critical Incident Management Team will designate which items of evidence will be sent for processing.

(b) The Sheriff's Office will cause the evidence to be delivered to the proper facility to complete the requested analysis.

(e) Upon completion of the criminal investigation, the Sheriff's Office will deliver the evidence and original reports to the Venue Agency for storage.

(a) All evidence not sent for analysis will also be sent to the Venue Agency along with the original reports.

(f) The Critical Incident Commander or his/her designee will if requested, present the evidence and case information to the Venue Agency or legitimate authorized entity.


310.3.3     OBTAINING INFORMATION FROM AND INTERVIEWS WITH SUBJECT OFFICERS Peace officers will be afforded the same rights as other citizens in a criminal investigation. The Peace Officer's Bill of Rights (California Government Code § 3300 et seq..) are applicable in administrative procedures arising out of this incident. A peace officer who is the focus of a criminal investigation cannot be compelled to answer questions. Officers can be ordered to respond in an administrative investigation, however, information obtained under compulsion in this way cannot be used in the criminal case.

(a) The only types of information that can be compelled from a subject peace officer at the scene of a critical incident are those directly related to immediate public safety issues. A subject officer can be compelled to provide a verbal summary of the occurrence including:

  1. The direction of fire and number of rounds expended for each "shooter"
  2. Whether any suspects remain at large;
  3. The location of possible other parties injured during the incident. Any questions may be asked of him unless there is sufficient probable cause to believe that the subject officer has committed a crime and is no longer free to go. If the latter is the case, the subject officer should be Mirandized before obtaining information from him/her.

(b) The foregoing are some of the  reasons  why  Critical  Incident  Investigators  and the Critical Incident Management Team  must  maintain  a  separation  between  their own criminal investigation and any administrative investigation. For example, administrative investigators cannot question subject officers in the presence of Critical Incident Investigators.

(c) In addition, the Critical Incident Investigators will observe the following rules:

  1. Interviews with all peace officers, whether subjects or witnesses to a Critical Incident, will be recorded.
  2. The interviews should be conducted by the Critical Incident Investigator(s) designated by The Lead Investigator. The Lead Investigator will determine who may participate in the interview of any subject officer(s) or witnesses and where the Interview(s) will take place.

(a) The assigned District Attorney Critical Incident Investigator and the Employing Agency Critical Incident Management Team member, if not physically present during the interview, will  be  permitted  to  monitor  the interview or have immediate access to any recording made of the interview.

(d) If, prior to or during the interview, it is deemed that the subject officer (or any other officer) may be charged with a criminal offense or that the interview has become custodial, the officer shall be immediately informed of his/her constitution all rights pursuant to the Miranda Decision.

(e) A request by a subject officer to consult with a representative prior to being questioned by Critical Incident Investigators will be honored. Some or all of these considerations may be applicable:

(a) The request should be treated as if it were a request by a civilian subject for the same privilege.

(b) While such consultation can be expected to delay certain investigation milestones, the consultation should not be allowed to improperly impede the investigation.

(c) The representative should be permitted to consult with only one subject officer at a time.

(f) Critical Incident Investigators shall bear in mind and remind subject and witness officers that if the officers consult with peer counselors or other officers prior to being questioned, any statements or other information communicated may be subject to discovery.

(g) In all instances, all witnesses (sworn and civilian) and subject officers should be separated as soon as possible after the Critical Incident. Statements and recollections of events should be independent.



(a) If the Lead Critical Incident Investigator determines that a peace officer's state of sobriety is relevant to the Critical Incident Investigation, he/she shall proceed as he/ she would with any civilian person in a similar situation. The options are to:

  1. Obtain a blood sample for alcohol testing, and/or urine sample for drug testing, by obtaining the officer's consent; or
  2. Obtain the blood sample for alcohol testing and/or urine sample for drug testing incidental to the arrest of that person for a crime; or
  3. Obtain a search warrant authorizing the compelled testing.

(b) In the event appropriate physiological samples are not obtained from a subject officer as part of the Critical Incident Investigation, the Employing Agency (whether or not it is also the Venue Agency) may wish to obtain such sample(s) for employment-related Administrative Investigation purposes. The options are to:

  1. Obtain the Sample(s) with the employee officer's consent; or
  2. Obtain the sample(s) by ordering the employee officer to provide such sample(s) based upon the employer-employee relationship. Physiological samples obtained as a result of an administrative order by the Employing Agency cannot be used for any purpose in the Criminal Incident Investigation.

(c) Law Enforcement Agencies may establish blanket orders regarding intoxicant testing of any public safety employee involved in a Critical Incident.

(d) Time is of the essence: It is essential that the Critical Incident Investigators determine whether and how they will attempt to obtain a sample for intoxicant testing from    any subject officers and thereupon inform the Employing Agency's Critical Incident Management Team member of their decision. Any delay can result in a less accurate test result for the Employing Agency if that Agency elects to utilize intoxicant testing on its own.

(e) If the Employing Agency asks for a physiological fluid sample for administrative purposes after the Critical Incident Investigators have either been unable to obtain   a sample or have decided against obtaining one, the Employing Agency will be accommodated as much as possible.

(f) A subject officer may volunteer to provide a physiological fluid sample for intoxicant testing even if the Critical Incident Investigators and Employing Agency have not requested or ordered one (respectively). Similarly, a person from whom a sample has been taken by the Critical Incident Investigators or the Employing Agency may wish to have a second sample taken for independent testing. Such request should be accommodated where practical, with the understanding that the subject officer will bear any expense for sample collection and testing.


310.3.5     AUTOPSY

(a) At least one of the Venue Critical Incident Investigators shall attend the autopsy. A member of the District Attorney's staff may also be present. The Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office Crime Scene Investigation Unit will have the responsibility for collection and documentation of physical evidence at the autopsy.

  1. If the Employing Agency is not the Venue Agency, it may have a representative present as an observer subject to the discretion of the Coroner's Officer.

(b) The pathologist should receive a full and complete briefing prior to the post-mortem examination. The briefing should include all information known at that time which may be relevant to the establishment of the cause, manner and means of decedent's death. The Lead Critical Incident Investigator and a member of the evidence collection team should be present at the briefing



While any agency with knowledge of a Critical Incident cannot be prohibited from making statements to the news media, these guidelines are established:

(a) As the Venue Agency's member on the Critical Incident Management Team is in   the best position to comment about the facts of the case and the progress of the investigation. Other Agencies will refer media contacts to him/her, apart from the following:

  1. The Employing Agency. When the Employing Agency is not also the Venue Agency, the Employing Agency will try to limit its comments to the following areas:

(a) Confirmation of the employer-employee relationship.

(b) Information which has been cleared for release by the Venue Agency.

(c) The existence of the Critical Incident Management Team and Investigators, as well as the Incident Protocol.

(d) The existence of an internal Agency administrative inquiry.

(b) The District Attorney.

(a) Prior to completion of the Critical Incident Investigation, the District Attorney's Office will try to limit its comments to information cleared for release by the Venue Agency and the existence of the Critical Incident Management Team and Investigators, as well as the Incident Protocol.

(b) In cases presented to the Grand Jury, where an indictment is not returned, disclosure of all-or part of the testimony of witnesses before the Grand Jury can be disclosed only upon order of the Court pursuant to Penal Code § 924.6. Other information may be disclosed in accordance with the media policy of the agency to which inquiry is made.

(c) In cases where charges are to be filed each agency involved will follow the media policy which it has established for dealing with inquiries concerning criminal cases.

(c) The Criminalistics Laboratory.

(a) Information released will generally be confined to laboratory procedures, scientific facts and principles, and testing procedures. Results of searching, testing and analysis will generally not be released without consulting the Venue Agency and the District Attorney.

(d) The Coroner's Office.

(a) Release of information will generally be limited to the following:

(a) Autopsy findings, including the condition of the deceased, the cause     of death, and toxicology test results, after the involved agencies have received this information.

(b) The identity of those present at the autopsy, including the identity and affiliation of the pathologist(s).

(c) The general nature of further medical testing or medical investigation to be done.

(d) Information obtained by Coroner's investigators directly from medical sources, the deceased family members, or witnesses. Information obtained from the Critical Incident Investigators or from the involved agencies will not be released by the Coroner's Office without prior clearance from those agencies.

(e) The role of the Coroner's Office in the investigation of death, in general terms.

(b) If the Lead Critical Incident Investigator determines that the release of a specific piece of information would jeopardize the investigation, he/she shall notify those agencies possessing that knowledge of the hazards of releasing it.

(c) Interruptions to the investigators will be minimized if the Venue Agency assigns a particular individual to be the sole contact with the news media. If this is    not feasible, a particular job assignment (e.g., Watch Commander) will be designated.

(d) The interest of the publics right to know what occurred must be balanced with the requirements of the investigation and with the right of a defendant to receive a fair trial.

(e) Release of the Names of Subject Officers in Critical Incidents

(a) Generally, member agencies release the names of its Department personnel involved in Critical Incidents. The release of the names should only be made after the concerned Officer(s) have had an opportunity to notify their families.

(b) If the Officer is working undercover or in another Assignment or circumstances that would be compromised by releasing his/her name, then the release shall not be made.



Expeditious completion of the Critical Incident Investigation Report and forwarding it to the District Attorney for his/her further consideration are very important.

(a) Once the Critical Incident Investigative Report has been completed to the satisfaction of the Lead Investigator, he/she shall forward it to the Critical Incident Management Team.

(b) The Management Team shall review the report.

  1. In the event that a majority of the members of the Management Team are not satisfied with the report, they may send it back to the Lead Investigator with instructions for further work.

(c) When a majority of the members of the Management Team are satisfied with the report, the Team may arrange the distribution of the report to the following individuals:

  1. The administrative head of the Venue Agency;
  2. The administrative head of the Employing Agency, if different;
  3. The Sheriff
  4. The District Attorney



Policy 310 PDF