Independent After-Action Reviews of Incident Responses — Technical Assistance

Project Purpose/Goal

The National Police Foundation believes that some of the best lessons learned and improvements in law enforcement come from thorough, independent and critical reviews of incidents. After-action reviews (AARs) provide particularly objective observations, completed by independent experts who emphasize learning and improvement over assigning fault or blame. When law enforcement agencies respond to a mass violence attack, mass demonstration, or other large-scale incident, the Critical Incident Response Program can provide independent assessments of the event and targeted technical assistance. The purpose is to provide an independent, thorough review of the practices, protocols and systems surrounding law enforcement/public safety and the community in order to identify lessons learned that can not only inform the first responders involved in the incident, but also have national implications, and offer technical assistance in priority areas. National Police Foundation’s Critical Incident Response & Technical Assistance provides services ranging from peer-to-peer exchanges to in-depth review and analysis, all in efforts to assist departments in evolving their preparation and response to major incidents.

Technical Assistance and Review Method

The National Police Foundation (NPF) tailors the scope of the technical assistance, and the composition of the review team to fit each individual incident, the police department and the community in an effort to provide a comprehensive understanding of the incident and the jurisdiction. Critical Incident Response teams are comprised of law enforcement and community subject matter experts with experience in areas such as response to mass violence incidents or management of mass demonstrations, as well as NPF staff with experience and expertise in providing independent reviews.

Reviews harness the team’s combined knowledge and experience to analyze data, review public safety systems and protocols, assess policies and procedures, gather stakeholder input (including conducting interviews and focus groups, conducting surveys, and conducting field observation). The team tailors the assessment to the needs of the jurisdiction, providing a comprehensive assessment report, with recommendations, promising practices, and lessons learned and/or providing presentations to key stakeholders. As a means to share this information discipline-wide, many incident review / after action review reports are made publicly available in the Police Foundation Critical Incident Review Library and on the Police Foundation Incident Reviews website. The assessment and subsequent technical assistance efforts serve to enhance the safety of, and strengthen the relationships between, police agencies and their communities through problem solving, engagement and partnership development, and organizational transformation around the specific issues identified in the process.

After-Action Review Guidebook: Funded by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office), this guidebook was developed to support the efforts of public safety organizations as they conduct their own after-action reviews (AARs). The guidebook defines AARs; explores the role that AARs have had in public safety organizations; conducts a meta-analysis of major incidents in the United States and highlights common findings, lessons learned, and promising practices; and provides a step-by-step guide to conducting AARs.  (To Be Released in Spring 2019)

After-Action Review Sites:

Mass Violence

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland, Florida:Funded by Broward County, this comprehensive review focuses on the response to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSDHS) shooting on February 14, 2018. The full assessment will address the preparedness and response of systems within and at the intersection of entities responsible for the safety of MSDHS. The NPF team has identified several areas, including public safety communications, and recovery and resiliency following the incident.

Orlando Fire Department, Orlando, Florida:Funded by the City of Orlando, this comprehensive after-action assessment focuses on the Orlando Fire Department (OFD) response to the mass shooting that occurred on June 12, 2016 at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. The assessment addresses OFD’s response and role in the larger public safety response to the incident. Read the assessment After-Action Review of the Orlando Fire Department Response to the Attack at Pulse Nightclub.

Orlando Police Department, Orlando, Florida: Funded by the COPS Office, this comprehensive after-action assessment focuses on the Orlando Police Department (OPD) response to the mass shooting that occurred on June 12, 2016 at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. The assessment will address OPD’s preparation and response to the mass shooting, strategies and tactics used during the incident, and how the OPD is managing the aftermath of the mass casualty event. Read the assessment Rescue, Response, and Resilience: A critical incident review of the Orlando public safety response to the attack on the Pulse nightclub and view the interactive report on the Police Foundation Critical Incident Review website.

James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, Wilmington, Delaware: On February 1 – 2, 2017, inmates at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center (JTVCC), a Delaware state prison, took staff hostage for a period of approximately 15 hours. During the hostage incident, one correctional officer died and others were injured. On February 14, 2017, Governor Carney signed an Executive Order initiating an independent review into the incident to determine what happened, and what actions can be taken to prevent similar incidents in the future. Governor Carney appointed two prominent Delaware leaders to lead this work as the Independent Review Team. The Police Foundation was selected to support the review by using its proven incident review protocol – conducting interviews, compiling recommendations, and drafting the preliminary and final reports for consideration and use by the Independent Review Team. Read the assessment Final Report: Independent Review of Security Issues at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center.

Kalamazoo Police Department, Kalamazoo, Michigan: Funded by the City of Kalamazoo, this comprehensive after-action assessment focuses on the shootings of eight people on the night of February 20, 2016, allegedly perpetrated by a single individual. The assessment will triage individual and multi-agency responses to the incident; provide findings, recommendations, and technical assistance; and, monitor, evaluate, and support improvements in the response to local incidents. Read the assessment Managing the Response to a Mobile Mass Shooting: A Critical Incident Review of the Kalamazoo, Michigan, Public Safety Response to the February 20, 2016 Mass Shooting Incident.

San Bernardino Police Department, San Bernardino, California: Funded by the COPS Office, this comprehensive after-action assessment focuses on the response to the terrorist attack that occurred at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California, on December 2, 2015. The assessment critically, objectively and thoroughly examines the public safety response – including preparation and aftermath – to the terrorist attack.  The report identifies lessons learned regarding the responding agencies’ policies, procedures, tactics, systems, culture, and relationships; and guide other agencies and first responders as they plan to respond to similar incidents. Read the technical report Bringing Calm to Chaos: A Police Foundation Review of the San Bernardino Terrorist Attacks and view the interactive report on the Police Foundation Critical Incident Review website.

Southern California Regional Response to the Christopher Dorner Incident, Various First Responder Agencies, California: Funded by the Police Foundation, this comprehensive after-action assessment focuses on the response of multiple Southern California law enforcement agencies to the attacks by a former Los Angeles Police Department officer in February 2013. The assessment examines policies and practices that policing agencies should consider modifying regarding regional responses and large-scale incidents. Read the technical report Police Under Attack: Southern California Law Enforcement Response to the Attacks by Christopher Dorner and view the interactive report on the Police Foundation Critical Incident Review website.

Mass Demonstrations

Metropolitan Police Department, Washington, DC: Funded by the District of Columbia Office of Police Complaints (OPC), this independent review focuses on the Metropolitan Police Department’s interactions with First Amendment assembly participants during the 2017 Presidential Inauguration. This assessment follows the OPC recommendation in its February 2017 report that an independent consultant examine the Department’s response to the demonstrations. Read the assessment 2017 Presidential Inauguration First Amendment Assembly Independent Law Enforcement Review.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, Charlotte, North Carolina: Funded by the City of Charlotte, this comprehensive after-action project focuses on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) response to the protests that took place following the fatal shooting of Keith Lamont Scott in September 2016. The project utilized a community-driven methodology to conduct a comprehensive after-action analysis of the CMPD response to the protests and to share lessons learned and best practices with the City of Charlotte and CMPD. Read the assessment Advancing Charlotte: A Police Foundation Assessment of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Response to the September 2016 Demonstrations.

Minneapolis Police Department, Minneapolis, Minnesota: Funded by the COPS Office, this comprehensive assessment focuses on the Minneapolis Police Department’s response to the protests and 4th precinct occupation following the fatal shooting of Jamar Clark in November 2015. Specifically, subject matter experts examined the entire period of the protests and police responses, including the 18-day occupation of the Fourth Precinct. The assessment includes analyses, document collection and review, observations, and interviews with government officials, community groups and various stakeholders. Read the assessment Maintaining First Amendment Rights and Public Safety in North Minneapolis: An After-Action Assessment of the Police Response to the Protests, Demonstrations, and Occupation of the Minneapolis Police Department’s Fourth Precinct.

Use of Force

Pasadena Police Department, California: Funded by the City of Pasadena, this independent review focuses on the Pasadena Police Department’s administrative review of the death of Reginald Thomas, Jr., who died following a struggle with Pasadena police officers on September 30, 2016. The review examines the Pasadena Police Department’s in-custody death case, the internal administrative review process used by the department, and the decision to use the Los Angeles County Sheriffs’ Office criminal investigation process to review Pasadena Police Department critical incidents. (To Be Released in Spring 2019)

Bank Robbery and Hostage Taking at Bank of the West, Stockton Police Department, Stockton, California: Funded by the Police Foundation, this comprehensive after-action assessment focuses on the Stockton Police Department (SPD) response to the robbery of the Bank of The West and subsequent hostage taking and vehicular pursuit in July 2014. Read the technical report A Heist Gone Bad: A Police Foundation Critical Incident Review of the Stockton Police Response to the Bank Of The West Robbery and Hostage-Taking.

Points of Contact

Blake Norton
Senior Vice President
(202) 833-1460

Jennifer Zeunik
Director of Programs
(202) 833-1460

Chief (ret.) Frank Straub, PhD
Director of the Center for Mass Violence Response Studies
(202) 833-1460


Community policing; recruitment, selection and hiring; handling mass demonstrations; racial profiling; use of force; citizen complaints; fair and impartial policing; mass violence; terrorism; after action review; critical incident

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