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October 07, 2013
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Richard Fairburn Law Enforcement Firearms
with Richard Fairburn

Tactical suicide vs. loitering: Risk a lot to save a lot

In the case of an active killer loose in a populated venue, one must risk a lot to save a lot

A short time ago one of our nation’s finest police trainers, Lieutenant Dave Grossi, posted an article here on PoliceOne entitled Tactical Loitering: Suicide is not part of your job description.

Lieutenant Grossi’s column was written in response to one by another of our nation’s finest police trainers, Chuck Remsberg, entitled Is ‘tactical loitering’ costing lives?

I feel compelled to throw my two cents into this pot. 

Evolution of Rapid Deployment
First, at the risk of being labeled arrogant, I will point out my credentials on the subject of active shooter incidents and training for the police response. 

As the lead R&D guy at a major police academy, in 2001 I researched historical active shooter incidents prior to developing the Rapid Deployment (RD) training we rolled out statewide. If you want the details of that research, drop me an email and I will send you a copy.

I won’t cover the specifics here other than to say we became convinced the first generation of RD training came up short when compared to 44 historical events. The two primary shortcomings were: Time (most incidents were over far too fast for a four-officer contact team to assemble) and the nature of the “Battlefield” (about one-third of the incidents took place in a large, open environment: outdoors or a large indoor venue like a gymnasium). 

We recommended two major changes. First, we suggested beginning the “hunt” for active shooters immediately — with only one officer if there is even a slight delay in backup arrival — forming a team on-the-fly as additional officers arrive. Second, we advised teaching the infantry tactic of bounding overwatch, which evolves into fire and maneuver, using a team split into two elements. 

The RD version 2.0 curriculum served as the foundation of the NTOA’s Multi-Assault Counter-Terrorism Action Capabilities (MACTAC) training program geared for defense against a Mumbai-style terrorist attack. 

Since my research and report laid the groundwork for the most current thinking in RD, I feel qualified to comment.

Your Internal Risk/Benefit Assessment
Despite my enormous respect for Dave Grossi’s track record as a trainer, I must disagree with his thought process comparing solo RD to suicide. 

Instead, going in after an active killer alone or with one fellow officer is a reasoned response to an extraordinary threat posed to innocent citizens.

Dave related his own heroic story of a rescue in icy waters. Statistically, water rescues by police officers without the benefit of additional equipment or assistance rarely succeed, and often claim the lives of both the victim and the would-be rescuer. 

Was Dave Grossi’s decision to jump into the frozen lake a “suicidal” event? 

No. 

He made an internal assessment and decided the potential benefit outweighed the potential risk. He mentioned that his gear was being held by a brother officer who he said would have been risking suicide to attempt the same rescue.  

Besides Lieutenant Grossi, I know two other nationally respected trainers — men who have my unqualified respect — who still think RD is the wrong tactic. 

In the 2009 active shooter attack at a Vietnamese immigration center in Binghamton, New York, the chief of police chose the pre-Columbine tactic of “Contain, Isolate, and Wait” for SWAT. Almost a full decade after the Columbine attack and the explosion of RD training across the nation, this agency in upstate New York ignored the tactic most of the country had determined to be the “best practice.” 

After a three-hour standoff, the gunman had killed 14 people, including himself.

Some Things Worth the Risk
It is my view that any officer who embarks on a solo hunt for an active shooter must perform the same internal risk assessment as Dave did beside that icy lake. That officer must factor in their weaponry, training, and experience. They must weigh the same dynamics — does the potential benefit (saving multiple innocent lives) justify the potential risk (giving their own life in the attempt)? 

In the case of an active killer loose in a populated venue, one must risk a lot to save a lot.

In the case of almost every school and workplace shooting we have debriefed (my research through 2002 and then Ron Borsch’s research since the publication of my report), you will most likely be facing one heavily armed but poorly trained shooter. 

Note that several school shooters have been stopped by unarmed teachers. If you are not mentally, physically, and tactically superior to an unarmed teacher, you need to do yourself and your community a big favor and find another line of work.

Besides, if the worst happens, there are things worth dying for. Countless American military and police warriors have written that commandment in their blood.


About the author

Dick Fairburn has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience in both Illinois and Wyoming, working patrol, investigations and administrative assignments. Dick has also served as a Criminal Intelligence Analyst and as the Section Chief of a major academy's Firearms Training Unit and Critical Incident training program. He has a B.S. in Law Enforcement Administration from Western Illinois University and was the Valedictorian of his recruit class at the Illinois State Police Academy. He has published more than 100 feature articles and two books: Police Rifles and Building a Better Gunfighter.

Contact Richard Fairburn





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