In Part 2 of the Stopwatch of Death series, tactical experts weigh in on the imperative of training patrol officers to make immediate entry in order to neutralize an active shooter situation — this, with the belief that the majority of patrol officers, as well as their supervisors, know that patrol's traditional "hold and contain" duties are woefully inadequate in the face of the new, "novel" gunman who defies traditional countermeasures.
As this morning's shooting at Delaware State University serves to confirm, the active shooter trend will not abate any time soon. Law enforcement must confront it head-on with new training techniques that effectively protect a new era of violent attacks on our schools and on the public.
By Rachel Fretz, PoliceOne editor
Part 2 of a 2-part series
Read Part 1
The training paradigm
In 1975, when Pierce Brooks wrote his groundbreaking book, Officer Down: Code 3, he sent shockwaves through the law enforcement community. In examining new technology and changing realities on the street, the book questioned deep-seated “truths” and replaced them with new, more effective survival techniques.
“For years our officers died from preventable mistakes, but didn’t know it — they thought they were doing the right thing,” said Ron Borsch, Ron Borsch, manager and trainer at the SEALE Regional Training Academy in Bedford, Ohio. “Training was in a paradigm where whatever you got in the academy, that’s what you got for the remainder of your career.”
When it comes to countering the new model for shooter motives and tactics, law enforcement is once again at a watershed. In the world of active shooter incidents, Columbine is ancient history, along the outmoded four-man model — or Diamond Formation — that was used to gain access at the time of the shooting.
“The four-man model is an old model for an old problem,” Borsch said.
Sgt. David Burns is the director of training at ALERRT (Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training), based at Texas State University-San Marcos. He calls Columbine the “biggest catalyst” for immediate response training: It wasn’t the first active shooter incident, but it was the most highly publicized at the time.
Burns believes that footage of officers waiting for SWAT outside the school while the shootings were taking place caused public outrage. “People came out and said, ‘I’d rather see dead cops than dead kids.’”
At this point, LE agencies started really looking at this issue from the practical standpoint that tactical teams aren’t enough. While the issue of active shooters had been around for several decades, there hadn’t been a single incident forcing LE to change its ideology and methodology in responding to such situations. Policy had always been clear in its specialization of manpower, and patrol officers were relegated to “contain and hold” duties.
Empowering our officers
Burns was disturbed after Columbine when he heard the public accuse the officers outside the school of cowardice for not responding more aggressively.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “These guys had limited to no training to respond and, moreover, they were not empowered by their agencies.”
Now is the time for agencies to empower their officers through policy and procedure, Burns said, to tell them, “In order to save lives, you are blessed and authorized to go in there and stop the murder of innocent people.”
Most agencies and officers are enthusiastically signing on. Officers realize they can do something and are willing to put themselves in the way of danger to save lives. “99% of the officers I’ve come in contact with want this sort of training,” Burns said.
“There’s nothing like reading critique at a class from an officer who has 25 years of experience, who says, ‘Where has this training been my entire career? Why am I just now getting it? It’s only by the grace of God that I’m still alive, because now I can see all the things I could’ve done better.’”
Of equal significance is the phenomenon of denial. The thought that “it can’t happen here” is fading fast due to shocking evidence to the contrary. The 2006 slaughter in a one-room Amish schoolhouse, during which five girls, aged 5-11 were killed, made it clear that it can happen anytime, anywhere.
So given all of that, why isn’t immediate entry standard practice?
Redefining "active shooter"
Mark Schlegel, an active shooter training instructor at the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, believes that, in order for this sort of training to take root, the mindset of the law enforcement community needs to change.
“First, we need to rethink what ‘active shooter’ means,” he said.
Schlegel points out that, after Columbine, agencies ramped up training, but in doing so, they put a heavy emphasis on schools. “Many active shooter policies have a subjective definition of a ‘target rich environment,’” he said. “But ‘target rich’ could mean a business, any public venue, or even a private residence.”
Naturally, the definition of “active shooter” will inform the scope of training. Consider the variables: number of people, type of weapon, terrain, target count, type of structure and whether or not it is fortified, typical vs. nontraditional entry points. These skills, learned to a high level, can be applied across the boards to neutralize a “novel event.” In fact, active shooter training has far more applications than a “gunman in a school” scenario, and would enhance any critical response training, including terrorist response.
Burns said he is amazed at the number of officers who call him after going through a class to say they’ve been involved in a situation where something they’d picked up in class turned the tide in their favor and allowed them to win the situation. In fact, it’s very seldom, he says, that it’s an active shooter these guys are responding to.
In addition to defining “active shooters”, Schlegel says that the law enforcement community needs to decide what it means to be a police officer. What is a patrol officer’s responsibility is in an active shooter situation? Expectations and policies vary by department, and by individual officer.
“A lot of folks still want to practice the 5 C’s [during a high risk call],” he said. They are: Contain, Control, Communicate, Coordinate and Command.
“Their reluctance to make entry has merit,” he said, “in part because these officers aren’t trained and supported by their agencies.” Agencies that have not implemented training usually cite prohibitive costs and lack of staff.
“That can be frustrating,” he said. “You want to be equipped — not go on a suicide mission.”
Grossman points out that, in a nation that annually spends millions of dollars protecting school-age students from fires in schools, very little is spent training and equipping police officers for Immediate Action Rapid Deployment for their protection. There has not been a single death in an American school due to fire in over 25 years. In comparison, during the calendar years 1999 to 2005, over 200 children have been murdered in American schools.
According to experts like Jeff Chudwin, chief of the Olympia Fields PD and tactical SWAT trainer, the majority of officers want this sort of training.
He points out that the majority of SWAT members are patrol officers. “There’s no competition (between SWAT and patrol),” he said. “People are unified on this issue. Uniformed official observers don’t accomplish anything.”
Right now, Chudwin says that police are functionally a reactive force that must move to being proactive. “The original emergency response strategy of ‘contain, isolate and negotiate’ fails in the active shooter situation,” he said. “If you exist in a model that cannot work, you’ll have a disastrous ending.”
To Ron Borsch, a big part of tactical training is mindset — preparing your mind for where your body is going to go. “If you aspire to be a warrior, must prepare your mind for the physical action,” he said.
In fact, society as a whole must prepare for what’s coming next.
“The kids who gave us Jonesboro in the middle school and Columbine in the high school are now giving us Virginia Tech in the colleges,” Grossman said. “I hope I am wrong, but I predicted that we would see these kids in the college, and now I predict that soon we will see them in the workplace.”
“If there is a major downturn in the economy, and we lay off 20 million Americans,” he said, “they will make you feel their pain.”
The good news is, if it’s predictable, it’s preventable.
“Because we do our homework, we continue to pioneer in this area,” Borsch said. “We also continue to improve due to feedback from our first responder target audience, and we share information.”
“It is up to folks like you and me to mentally empower our young men and women to visualize the success that is not only possible, but has been proven.”
And the numbers don’t lie.