Leveraging Lessons Learned from Critical Incidents

A critical incident in the context of law enforcement can be defined as a major, out-of-the-ordinary event, situation, case or other type of incident that involves a law enforcement response and may or may not involve the use of force.  Critical incidents don’t occur often, but when they do, they test the response capabilities of law enforcement and other agencies in ways that training scenarios cannot easily duplicate.

1. Critical incidents often provide an outstanding opportunity for involved agencies to look back at what occurred with a critical eye toward improving responses and protecting life and property.

2. Different from an internal investigation or accountability review, a critical incident review is designed to focus on what went right, what went wrong, and how the agencies’ response to the next critical incident can be improved. Critical incident reviews should not be used to place blame or identify specific liability.

3. Agency leaders should consider proactively requesting or procuring a critical incident review following any major incident.

4. Critical incident reviews are ideally completed by independent third-party organizations with expertise in policing and experience in conducting similar reviews.

5. Critical incident reviews can include presentation of lessons learned and recommendations to agency leaders, all designed to improve future operations.

6. Publicly and proactively announcing a critical incident review at the conclusion of an incident can often help improve community confidence and satisfaction by providing the reassurance that agency leadership is concerned about what happened, is open to an independent critical review of the agency’s response, and is committed to improving future responses.


Police Foundation’s Critical Incident Review Library

In an effort to provide helpful suggestions in areas that have not yet been fully studied or evaluated, we have included ideas for responses and activities that may not yet be considered evidence-based or evidence-informed. Therefore, not all actions and strategies included within this App are evidence-based or evidence-informed.