Questions to ask yourself in the wake of the N.C. active shooter incident


Officer Justin Garner of the Carthage, North Carolina Police Department responded to a call we’ve all probably thought about, and hopefully visualized and trained for: an in-progress shooting, this one at a local nursing home. When it was over, eight people were dead, the gunman had been shot and arrested, and 25-year-old Officer Garner was on his way to the hospital, where he was treated and released.


Investigators work at the scene at Pinelake Health and Rehab Center, where a gunman opened fire Sunday, killing at eight people and wounding several others in Carthage , N.C., Monday, March 30, 2009. (AP Photo)
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As I write this little is known about the shooter’s motives or how the police managed to stop the gunman, but Police Chief Chris McKenzie confirmed that Officer Garner was the first to arrive and was met by the 45 year old shooter in a hallway. Justin Garner was described as well-trained, and is already being hailed as a “hero” by his department and by the media. What a way to end the deadliest month for law enforcement officers so far this year, as we mourn the death of 12 of our brother officers in March, twenty-nine so far in 2009. As we learn more about his incident we will most certainly be able to learn from the actions of Officer Garner and the other responding units. In the mean time, consider these points.

Are you really ready for that “shots fired” call? 
Since Columbine, police departments have made a concerted effort to train their first responding patrol officers how to deal effectively with active shooter without waiting for a special response team. We usually train to wait for at least a second (and hopefully an third) officer to arrive before forming an ad hoc team and going after the shooter. Trainers like Ron Borsch believe that the first officer to arrive on scene should make entry and hunt the killer down. As we teach in the Street Survival seminar, back up is always better but you also have to mentally, physically, and emotionally train for that day when its just you against evil. Its best to train for a variety of scenarios; and regardless of the training you receive, you should frequently be visualizing your own response to an active shooter in your community.

Are you prepared off duty to deal with an active shooter?
Schools, churches, malls, and now a nursing home are all places we have recently visited or will probably visit in the near future. Do you carry a gun off duty? Is it accessible, have you discussed active shooters with your family and have you visualized how you would respond? On duty we go to the calls, but off duty, they come to us. As I worshiped in church this Sunday, I also visualized how I would respond if a shooter burst through one of the two entrances to the sanctuary. Is this paranoia, or preparedness? I consider myself prepared. More than a hundred times I’ve sat in that church and visualized myself in a gunfight there. I’ve worked out various successful scenarios in my head and I’ve practiced my repetitions on the range. I’ve talked to my family and my friends and like so many of you, I am confident in my ability to deal with that scenario.

Heroes don’t always die. In fact, most of them live.
Ninety five percent of police officers who get shot are not fatally wounded. Officer Garner was shot in the leg, treated, and released. This is something to be thankful for after we’ve lost five police officers in the past eight days. Our heart goes out to the victims, their families and their friends, and the small community of Carthage, NC. And our pride and our gratitude are with young Justin Garner, who without hesitation answered that call we’ve all thought about.

About the author

Sergeant Betsy Smith has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience, retiring as a patrol supervisor in a large Chicago suburb. A graduate of the Northwestern University Center for Public Safety's School of Staff and Command and a Street Survival seminar instructor for more than 9 years, Betsy is now a speaker, author and a primary PoliceOne Academy consultant. Visit Betsy's website at www.femaleforces.com.

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