Responding to active killing requires training and trust
Editor's Note: PoliceOne welcomes Rick Armellino in his return as a regular contributor. Every few months, Rick will share his insight about the concept of Immediate Action Rapid Deployment (IARD) tactics for use by first responders in the approach to armed and hostile individuals in public places, which he and his partner, Lt. Al Baker (NYPD, ret.), work to advance in police agenices across the country. Check out some of Rick's past contributions to PoliceOne, and E-mail us if you'd like to write an article about active shooter or any other topic of interest to LEOs.
The first officers on the scene had never trained for what they found at Columbine High School: No hostages. No demands. Just killing. Columbine has transformed the way LEOs deal with active shooter situations. Check out PoliceOne's complete coverage of the 10-year anniversary of Columbine by clicking here. (AP Photo)
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Deadly day at the office
The deranged gunman walked in, granting just enough time for the receptionist to stand up and ask, “Can we help you?” The shooting barrage began — another deranged homicidal and suicidal coward would be immortalized, brutally trading a warped sense of fame in return for the precious lives of innocent victims.
The American Civics Association building in downtown Binghamton, New York would forever remain a footnote in the massacre record books, along with the names of the victims and the police response.
Seriously wounded, the receptionist lay quietly on the floor, having taken a shot to the stomach. Bleeding and in great pain, she was lucky to be alive. Her co-worker seated next to her at the reception counter was not so fortunate, her bleeding body lay dying a short distance away, hit multiple times — including the head.
When shot, 61 year-old Shirley DeLucia stumbled backwards, fell down and played dead. The shooter swiftly shot her co-worker and moved on, searching for fresh targets, which he soon located in a nearby classroom.
In shock and valiantly clinging to life, she became aware that the sound of rapid gunfire was now emanating from an area further back into building, out of her line of sight. Defensively positioning herself under the receptionist’s counter, she located her cell phone, dialed 911, and soon found comfort speaking with the emergency operator.
Knowing that police headquarters was only three short blocks away, it was assumed that assistance would be arriving shortly. She was right, the sound of sirens close by was almost immediate, rescuers and medical assistance were now positioned just outside.
Silence is golden
Police first responders arrived within two minutes, and the police chief soon followed. Upon arrival, the sound of gunfire was not heard, so there would be no multiple officer entry team formed up in accordance with this region's typical active shooter responder policy.
The default procedure kicked in, and an outside perimeter was quickly established.
Police Chief Joseph Zikuski had assumed command, collecting all available information. Within 10 minutes dozens of officers were positioned behind available cover outside awaiting orders — so many officers soon surrounded the building that protective cover was in short supply.
Shirley DuLucia realized that rescue would not be immediate as her observations and ability to speak English had become an important resource to help end the potential for more death. Instructed to remain hidden, she continually confirmed that the shooting had stopped, and that no movement could be detected within her earshot.
Who do you trust?
The killer was still alive and capable of ambushing rescuers, or he was already dead. Chief Zikuski had a choice, could his less-prepared and -equipped patrol officers be trusted to effectively make entry and clear the building, or did the gravity of this dynamic situation require the specialized services of SWAT?
Individually ready, willing and able, brave Binghamton patrol officers badly wanted to take out this cowardly monster, right then and there, before anyone else was allowed to die — this was not destined to happen. Instead these officers were ordered to remain stationed around the outside perimeter, in full view of the citizenry and media. During the long wait for SWAT entry, law enforcement personnel moved worried friends and family to a church a few blocks away.
Approximately one hour after the shooting ceased, SWAT made entry. One hour and fifteen minutes after being shot, Shirley DeLucia was evacuated. Three hours after the shooting stopped, twenty-six traumatized people were located hiding in a basement boiler room, and were freed from their terrible ordeal.
It was later determined that the killer promptly committed suicide when the sound of sirens outside broadcast a close police presence.
Following the conclusion of the search and rescue operation, the Governor of New York arrived by helicopter and attended a hastily prepared press conference — joined by the local U.S. Congressman, the Mayor of Binghamton. and the Chief of Police.
Chief Zikuski commended the actions of Mrs. DeLucia, who he labeled “heroic.”
When questioned why it took his officers so long to make entry into the building the chief informed the media that real-time vital information was continually being supplied from the receptionist, and others, which indicated a possibility that the killer might still be alive and therefore a danger to his officers. Since there was no reported gunfire, the situation did not rise to the level requiring endangering the lives of non-SWAT personnel.
“He was dead. We didn't know it,” Zikuski informed the media, adding, “If there's a bunch of cops laying on the floor shot trying to rescue somebody else, it’s not going to help anybody. All I can tell you is that we did what was expected and was the right thing to do under the circumstances. We did the right thing.”
The public lashes out
Considering the severe lack of municipal funding plaguing most rust-belt cities located in upstate New York, no doubt the chief did the best he could with what he had available. No one ever wants to see anyone get hurt.
Not unexpectedly, the overwhelming majority of citizen comments expressed via the local newspaper Internet bulletin board didn’t agree with the decision for delayed entry — here’s a small sampling:
“Did I understand correctly that if there was still shooting when the police arrived they would have entered but because the shooting was over the police waited for swat? What the heck sense does that make?”
“What were they thinking just standing around outside while people were possibly bleeding out in the building!”
“They cleared the emergency rooms and cancelled elective surgeries in the operating rooms...emergency units of blood were rushed in from all over...and we waited and we waited and we waited for our patients and...late in the afternoon we got a poorly-scripted press conference from the mayor, governor, congressmen, police chiefs ... all praising each other and bragging about how well-trained our police were in 'clearing the streets’...”
“Once again, the police stood by, just as they did in Columbine.”
And once again, a homicidal and suicidal predator leaves their mark of death and destruction on an American community, and a local police department is perceived as being unprepared to efficiently provide help to citizens whose expectations are higher than the actual public safety services delivered.
Perimeter establishment — a safe policy for who?
A standardized policy of setting up an outside perimeter and adherence to policy that prohibits immediate pursuit of a potential or active mass murderer in a public setting is often attributed to concerns for officer safety. We’ve all heard the sage logic that, “Police can’t rush in with guns-a-blazing.”
The reality is guns-a-blazing may be the only appropriate response to active killing. It is doubtful the public realizes an officer hiding behind cover on the outside perimeter of an armed invasion is much less likely to make mistakes that could bring unwanted attention to any perceived deficiencies of management and/or political leadership.
Police trainer Ron Borsch runs the SEALE academy in Bedford, Ohio and has been a strong advocate against the policy of setting up an outside perimeter during an armed invasion, labeling this practice “tactical loitering.”
Borsch states, “The hurry up and wait delay is conceptually deadly for the public we are sworn to protect. The medical GOLDEN HOUR targets severely injured victims. Victims arriving at a trauma center in less than an hour are more likely to be saved.”
Solo Immediate Action Rapid Deployment (IARD)
IARD during pursuits of armed invaders in public places simply means “no perimeter” is established until close proximity to the threat is obtained.
In many regions of our nation — particularly smaller more rural areas where the luxury of timely backup is not available — it is common for law enforcement agencies to write policy that requires the first responding officer to utilize Immediate Action Rapid Deployment tactics, without specifically identifying or referring to the term IARD in their policy manuals.
An eastern Tennessee police department representative shares his agency’s “General Orders,” which prohibit establishing a perimeter until the gunman takes hostage(s) and is cornered. He says, “Our general orders instruct officers to immediately pursue an armed public threat, waiting for SWAT only if following engagement the shooter barricades their self into a room with hostages. At that point, the pursuit becomes containment, and the officer(s) waits for SWAT.”
Discretion is the better part of valor
Carthage, North Carolina police officer Justin Garner recently showed the nation how a well-prepared first responder conducting Immediate Action Rapid Deployment (IARD) tactics was able to end the massacre at an adult care facility, long before the deranged killer was finished with his rampage.
The valiant life-saving actions of Officer Gardner is an excellent example of departmental policy that allows officers the discretion to do their job to the best of their ability — conspicuously lacking administrative obstacles put into place to provide all kinds of presumptive benefits at the expense of public safety.
Agencies that trust, authorize, train, and expect their officers to think and act on their own during a life-threatening emergency, without the need for the micro-management style of command inherent to departments’ top-heavy with centralized control, truly offer the highest level of public safety to their citizens.