In the aftermath of the 90-minute hail of gunfire allegedly perpetrated by Anders Behring Breivik — and potentially at least one accomplice — I’ve been thinking about how the chosen target of a remote island youth camp is eerily similar to a camp I once attended as a young person back in the early 1980s. That, in turn, got me to thinking, “Could those local cops in rural New York state — back when I attended the camp or today — respond more quickly than those Norwegian officers were able to?” I have to believe they most certainly could. According to a variety of reports, the gunman had at least one full hour “to go about his deadly work unchallenged” in part because an armed response team was some 45 minutes away by car, and in part because once that armed team did show up, they flooded the boat they’d attempted to take to end the shooting. They then had to commandeer a group of civilian craft to get to the island.
According to analysis from my friends at STRATFOR, “When many people and equipment were put into the boat available to cross from Hoenefoss to Utoeya Island to attempt to help the people that were being attacked on July 22, the boat took on water and the motor stopped, slowing the response to the attack.” Erik Berga, police operations chief in Buskerud County reportedly told Reuters that a decision to wait for a specially-armed unit from Oslo to arrive also slowed the response time.
What would you do if you suddenly found yourself faced with needing the assistance of a neighboring agency’s marine assets? Have you developed relationships with that maritime unit? What would you do if no such unit was available? Is there a maritime fire apparatus you could leverage? Have you done any joint training with them? The time to work out answers to these and other such questions is now, not in the moments after the first frantic 911 calls come in. This requires that a certain amount of pre-incident planning take place, and necessitates also that things like airborne and maritime assets are specifically considered in mutual aid capability assessments.
In his debut column for PoliceOne, Maritime Contributor Tom Burrell describes how his agency — the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission — worked with a handful of other departments that needed to respond to an incident on a secluded island in the middle of a local river. Check out that column and use it as a jumping-off point for a discussion within your own agency.
Speaking of jumping-off points: In Norway, wouldn’t a helicopter full of fast-roping SWAT guys have been a better option than a highway drive to a set of commandeered pleasure boats? According to this report, the Oslo police helicopter was not operational until later that day. Even still, according to Oslo Police Chief of Staff Johan Fredriksen, “Having a helicopter available would not have made a difference because it would have been used for surveillance rather than to transport the Delta force.”
As I’ve previously written, there are some easily-imaginable scenarios in which you’ll need to have some manner of rotary wing air support available. It may seem like a luxury when you’re in a meeting room, but it might be essential in stopping an attack.
Late today I received from one of my many PoliceOne “pen pals” out there a photo clearly taken from an airborne platform (I have to believe it was a helo) in which you can see the Utoeya Island shooter surrounded by the dead bodies of those he’d already killed. It’s the first image I’ve seen in which you can clearly see Breivik’s disguise — a police officer’s uniform. Aside from the fact that he impersonated an officer during the commission of his horrible act, which burns me up something fierce, there’s something else about this picture which has me hot under the collar: the fact that Breivik is still standing upright.
I know that even American cops cannot shoot from an airborne platform (although Mark Essex, the perpetrator of the 1973 Howard Johnson’s rampage in downtown New Orleans, was ultimately killed by police officers firing from a helicopter loaned to them by the United States Marines), but when you see an image like the one I got today, you just wish those Norwegian coppers had a door-gunner.