505 – Use and Discharge of Firearms

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Purpose

This policy establishes procedures for the use and reporting of incidents involving the discharge of a firearm. Though references herein are to deputies, this policy applies to all Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) employees.

Policy

HCSO deputies shall exhaust all reasonable means of apprehension and control before resorting to the use of a firearm. However, a deputy is authorized to resort to the use of a firearm when it reasonably appears to be immediately necessary to protect the life of the deputy or others under then-existing circumstances. This policy is in accordance with existing state and federal law and does not mean to expand those laws.

Procedure – Discharge of Firearms

Line of Duty

A deputy has no duty to retreat and is only justified in using deadly force against another when and to the extent the deputy reasonably believes the deadly force is immediately necessary to: [CALEA Standard 1.2.2]

  1. Protect him- or herself or others from what he or she reasonably believes to be a suspect’s use of unlawful deadly force, or
  2. Make an arrest or to prevent escape after arrest, and the deputy has probable cause to believe:
    • The suspect is committing or intends to commit imminently an offense involving the infliction or threatened infliction of death or serious bodily injury to the deputy or another, or
    • The deputy reasonably believes that there is an imminent risk of serious bodily injury or death to the deputy or any other person if the subject is not immediately apprehended.

Endangering the Public or Reckless Discharge

Deputies shall take extreme care when discharging their weapons so as not to endanger innocent persons or jeopardize property. The discharging of firearms in a reckless and irresponsible manner, or while under the influence of any substance likely to impair physical or mental processes, is prohibited and subject to disciplinary actions.

Situations Involving Moving Vehicles

A deputy shall not discharge his or her weapon at the occupants of a moving motor vehicle, unless:

  1. Deadly force, or the threat of deadly force, emanates from a weapon other than the vehicle, and the deputy believes that his or her response will eliminate that threat and will not unreasonably place other lives in jeopardy;
  2. Deadly force, or the threat of deadly force, is used by the suspect in the moving vehicle towards a third party, and the deputy believes that his or her response will protect the third party and not unreasonably place other lives in jeopardy; or
  3. Deadly force, or the threat of deadly force, is used by the suspect in the moving vehicle towards the deputy, and the deputy believes that his or her response will protect the life of the deputy and not unreasonably place other lives in jeopardy.

The deputy’s safety is paramount and must be safeguarded at all times. When confronted by one or more suspects in a motor vehicle, the deputy should:

  1. Approach the vehicle from the side whenever possible;
  2. Never intentionally place him- or herself in the path of the motor vehicle, front or rear, unless no other approach is reasonable; and
  3. Move out of the path of an oncoming vehicle, if possible, rather than discharge a firearm at the vehicle or the occupants of a moving vehicle.

Stopping a Dangerous Animal

In circumstances where a deputy encounters any animal which reasonably appears, under the totality of the circumstances, to pose an imminent threat to the safety of the deputy or others, and there are no other reasonable means at hand to neutralize the animal, the deputy is authorized to use deadly force to neutralize the threat.

In circumstances where a deputy has sufficient advance notice that a potentially dangerous animal (e.g., a dog) may be encountered, such as in the serving of a search warrant, the deputy should develop reasonable contingency plans for dealing with the animal so that deadly force may be avoided. The use of deadly force in such a situation may escalate the use of deadly force throughout the situation, and therefore should be avoided if possible. Nothing in this policy is meant to prohibit the use of deadly force by a deputy to control a dangerous animal if circumstances reasonably dictate that a contingency plan has failed or becomes impractical.

With a supervisor’s approval, a deputy may euthanize an animal that is so badly injured that human compassion requires its removal from further suffering and where other dispositions are unpractical.

Supervisor Responsibilities

If the incident occurs within Harris County or surrounding counties, the HCSO Communications Division shall immediately notify an on-duty patrol supervisor or the deputy’s supervisor.

After supervisor notification:

  1. If not notified through the Communications Division, the responding supervisor shall notify the Communications watch commander of the discharge of firearm incident.
  2. The supervisor shall make the scene. If there is any question concerning who should make the scene, a patrol supervisor shall respond and ensure the procedures outlined in this policy are followed.
  3. Notify the Communications watch commander of the circumstances surrounding the shooting.
  4. The Communications watch commander shall make all required notifications as outlined in the Communications notification procedures.
  5. The on-scene supervisor shall ensure that a complete report of all the facts surrounding the incident is submitted by the end of the shift.
  6. The responding supervisor shall, in all circumstances, generate an investigative letter outlining the facts of the discharge of firearm and submit it via the Blue Team online application. These facts should include, but are not limited to: a review of all reports, a list of any property damage, justifications for weapon usage, and any safety procedures followed. The investigative letter, incident reports, and any other documents shall be forwarded via Blue Team though the involved deputy’s chain of command to the bureau commander. The bureau commander shall forward the completed Blue Team investigation to the Office of Inspector General (OIG) for their review and disposition.

Lawful Practice or Sporting Events

Firearms may be discharged for target practice or recreational shooting at an approved range or any area where firing a weapon would be safe and not a violation of the law.

Procedure – Warning Shots

A warning shot is a military term describing harmless artillery shot or gunshot intended to call attention and demand some action of compliance. Warning shots in an environment like Harris County, Texas, are inherently dangerous. They may strike an unwanted target, they may cause a suspect to escalate his or her resistance to deadly force, or they may cause other peace officers to resort to deadly force due to their mistaken belief that the shots came from the suspect. Therefore, warning shots are prohibited. [CALEA Standard 4.1.3]

Procedure – Display of Firearms

A deputy shall not draw a firearm in a public place except in the line of duty or for inspection by a supervisor.

The deputy’s unsnapping of the holster and placing a hand on the service weapon is permitted when approaching a possibly dangerous situation.

Firearms may be removed from the holster and readied for use in situations where it is anticipated they may be required.

Firearms shall not be displayed or pointed in a threatening or intimidating fashion unless it is objectively reasonable to believe deadly force is justified or there is a substantial risk that the situation may escalate to the point where deadly force would be justified. Firearms shall be secured and returned to their holsters as soon as practical when it is determined that deadly force will not be necessary.

This policy does not apply to training displays as approved by the bureau commander of the bureau involved with the display.

Procedure – Report of Intentional or Unintentional Firearms Discharge

Whether in an on-duty or off-duty status, all intentional or unintentional discharges of a firearm against another person shall be reported as soon as possible. Supervisors will be responsible for entering the use of force report into Blue Team as outlined in HCSO Department Policy #501 – Use of Force. The deputy involved will complete an incident report detailing all of the facts, circumstances surrounding, and witnesses to the discharge. The bureau and division commanders will be notified at the scene as will the OIG and Internal Affairs Division. [CALEA Standard 4.2.1]

All other intentional discharges of a firearm while in an on-duty status, other than at an approved firing range, shall be reported by the deputy to his or her immediate supervisor, and the division commander will be notified from the scene.

All other unintentional discharges of a firearm while in an on-duty status, and intentional or unintentional discharges of a firearm while in an off-duty status other than at an approved firing range, shall be reported to the deputy’s division commander in a written memo.

Any discharge of a firearm at an approved range, sporting event, or any other situation not already covered herein that results in the injury of the deputy or another person shall be entered into Blue Team so that the HCSO has notice of the event.

Any discharge of a firearm as the result of directed force by a supervisor or other peace officer shall be reported by both the person directing the force and the person who applied the force.

All discharges of firearms will be reviewed by the bureau and division commanders to determine if further investigation, administrative action, and / or additional training is warranted.

Revision

This policy has been revised on the below listed dates:

April 10, 2013

June 18, 2014

October 14, 2016

December 5, 2016

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