One SWAT cop on patrol, the first responding to an active shooter

The dispatcher responds to the transmission you just made, which was cut short by the gunfire, "Use caution. Your nearest backup is at least six minutes out."


You’re a SWAT-trained officer performing your daily patrol assignment. As you round the corner on “Main Street” you notice a male wearing a long dark coat, gloves, and dark glasses step from a black compact car — a Camry — which he leaves double parked and unattended in the middle of the block. Your heart rate accelerates as the male quickly makes a bee-line toward the Bumble Bee Day Care Center and you see a sawed-off shotgun tucked under his coat.

You hastily park as the suspect disappears into the facility. Almost instantly, you hear frantic screams as you instinctively release your carbine from the rack, charge it, and release the safety.

As you move resolutely toward the entrance, you radio in the situation and then from inside the day care center comes the sound that resonates down to your core, “Boom, Boom, Boom,” which silences some of the screams and causes others too become even more frenzied. The dispatcher responds to the transmission you just made, which was cut short by the gunfire, “Use caution. Your nearest backup is at least six minutes out.”

What do you do? Do you call out your fellow SWAT team members? Do you wait for back-up to arrive, or do you make contact and engage the killer alone?

Move with Stealth
Even though many active shooter calls do not afford the opportunity to call out a SWAT Team, it begs for the skill of the SWAT operator. You do not have to be with your team to utilize the skills you’ve honed during ongoing training. By the same token, an officer does not necessarily have to be a part of a SWAT team to have the highly developed tactical skills of a SWAT operator.

When facing an actual active shooter situation, your training and experience lead you to take decisive action — with little or no help — without giving notice of your approach. Breathe and break up your tunnel vision as you flow silently through the chaos.

There will be little need for a distraction device, which will only serve to announce your arrival. The suspect’s shooting spree and the screaming it causes will be distraction enough. The shooter will likely have tunnel vision and will likely be incredibly focused on his victims.

Move silently passed the victims and toward the shooter. Bypass areas that do not contain the shooter and move directly toward the sound of the guns. Take the long gun. You should have trained with it so that it has become an extension of yourself. Remember: the handgun is for the “surprise-ee” in a gunfight while the long gun is for the “surprise-er.” Be the “surprise-er” in as many tactical situations as possible.

Remember Sun Tzu
Move to a position of advantage, where you have cover, concealment, and an eyeball on the suspect. If he poses an imminent threat of death or great bodily harm to another, you do not need to request, warn, or even verbalize, when doing so would endanger yourself or others.

As Sun Tzu would say, “Bring to him a noise he will not hear.”

Take the shot and make the shot.

There is no reason for any sworn police officer to wear or carry a firearm and not have the same highly developed skill as a SWAT operator in the use of the weapons they carry. It is shocking to think that in today’s world, there are still some officers who choose to half-heartedly train. There are even some who avoid training. They must be made to realize that a call like the Bumble Bee Day Care Center very well might be looming in their future no matter what their rank or assignment. They may draw this short straw on duty or off, in large metropolitan area or peaceful hamlet.

Moving in Formations
When preparing for responding to active shooter calls, officers and SWAT teams train in column formations, diamond formations and “T” formations. They practice flanking movements, tactical “L” movements, team movements, leap frog movements, rescue carries, and rescue maneuvers. Your department should choose an active shooter formation and movement protocol and train with it so when this happens, you can form up quickly and everyone will know their job. The latest and greatest tactic that a few know is inferior to good tactic that everyone knows and can implement under stress.

SWAT teams can help not only with the selection of tactics, but also with the implementation of the department-wide training in the use of these tactics.

When you are alone and the suspect is shooting, however, you are faced with a decision because it is just you and no is back-up instantly available. No matter what is said by any trainer, you may simply choose the “Justin Garner Formation.” 

The Justin Garner Formation
Justin Garner was on duty in March of 2009 in Carthage, North Carolina when a shooter entered a retirement home and began shooting everyone he saw. Justin decided to enter alone since he was the only officer on duty in Carthage at the time. He located the shooter, engaged him, and won the gunfight. Justin was wounded, but he clearly saved many lives by his decisive and courageous actions.

Justin later said that after attending training prior to this call he had given the active shooter call some thought. He said because he had used firearms all his life, he was comfortable with his firearms skills. He explained that he decided in advance that if he ever received an active shooter call it would be important for him to remain calm.

“So I was calm,” he said.

Time for SWAT
When an active shooter has stopped shooting, barricaded and taken a hostage, or gone into hiding, this is a time to contain and utilize a SWAT team response. All of the SWAT incident command protocols, perimeters, personnel, negotiators, weapons, equipment, technology, room clearing, area clearing, and tactics should be utilized to locate, isolate, and neutralize this threat.

The Proactive Role of the SWAT Officer
Most SWAT operators are part-time SWAT, serving other full-time duties in law enforcement. If you’re one of those SWAT officers, you may be in a position to identify one of these potential shooters in the early stages on an active shooter call. If you conduct a thorough investigation and take appropriate action, you may save lives.

You may also be afforded the opportunity to educate community partners in the five phases of the active shooter. Those five phases are:

• The Fantasy Stage
• The Planning Stage
• The Preparation Stage
• The Approach Stage
• The Implementation Stage

If a member of your SWAT Team happens to be a skilled public speaker, a presentation on these Five Phases can leave a lasting impression on some of your civilian partners in the community. It may save lives one day if teachers, students, doctors, judges, lawyers, jailers, and probation agents are aware that shooters can be stopped before children are dying and families are crying.

Those SWAT operators who are trainers can breathe reality into tactics training for other department members at all levels of the agency. You can inspire in them the belief that firearms training is not target practice. It is gunfight preparation and critical to the “protect,” part of “to serve and protect.”

Back at the Bumble Bee Day Care Center
You are outside the Bumble Bee Day Care Center, where there is an active shooter shooting right now... You are the lone officer at the scene and back-up is six minutes away. What do you do? Are you prepared to make this decision? Do you make contact alone, or do you stand by to wait for additional officers?

It’s your call.

About the author

Lt. Dan Marcou retired as a highly decorated police lieutenant and SWAT Commander with 33 years of full time law enforcement experience. He is a nationally recognized police trainer in many police disciplines and is a Master Trainer in the State of Wisconsin. He has authored three novels The Calling: The Making of a Veteran Cop , S.W.A.T. Blue Knights in Black Armor, and Nobody's Heroes are all available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com. Visit his website and contact Dan Marcou

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