Imagine you’re working your shift on an early December day. Your local mall is crowded with holiday shoppers when you get a call that at least 12 armed assailants have begun to attack the mall. Dispatch says 911 callers have reported that the aggressors have hand grenades and long guns, and that they’ve started killing innocent men, women, and children.
Are you prepared to respond? As a patrol officer, do you have the tactics and equipment to take on two squads of six or more gunmen?
As we all know, the Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya had such an attack take place late last month. That incident — which lasted about four days — reportedly claimed the lives of 61 civilians and six Kenyan soldiers. More than 200 people were reportedly wounded.
Decisive, Aggressive Action
We’ve learned from the 2008 Mumbai attacks and the 2004 Beslan siege that giving these extremist a stage and an audience for such a long period of time is one of their goals. Their theory is the longer it takes, the more people they can kill and the longer the international press covers the story, maximizing their exposure.
Here’s my advice to any officer(s) responding to an attack in a mall: get inside the objective quickly and deliver swift counterattacks without hesitation. The actions of the first responding officers dictate how the incident plays out. Police in Mumbai allowed the attackers to gain a stronghold early on, which provided the terrorists a tactical advantage when it was finally time to mop up the mess later.
The same appears to have happened in Kenya.
Since Columbine, American law enforcement has a great track record responding to active shooters. The change was slow — but steady — and I think we’ve finally figured out the key to success when responding to active shooters. Get inside and take on the attackers.
As a uniformed officer, if you respond quickly and without hesitation you will at least interrupt the attackers’ plan, and you potentially will bring them to ground.
That means, however, that you must continue to press forward during your counterattacks until the threat is neutralized. Do not stop and allow these militants the time to regroup, take cover, formulate a new plan, or take hostages.
Keeping them on the defensive as your backup arrives to supplement your response will deny them access to any more victims. Do this, and then the incident can conclude quickly.
Training and Preparation
The attackers in Kenya used rifles and lots of ammunition, but more alarming is their use of hand grenades. Another significant factor to consider is they were reported to have moved in squads.
Taking on two squads of attackers who are likely to be trained in military tactics will be a daunting task for an untrained and unprepared uniformed police officer. Your situational awareness as a “solo responder” will ensure that you recognize the need to transition into “teams” and “squads” so you can counterattack with an overwhelming force. For this, training and preparation are vital.
The reality of the Kenya attacks (and others) is that the attackers killed men, women and children with total disregard. When such an event happens here, such extremists will be a tougher adversary than the domestic active shooters we’ve dealt with in previous incidents.
We must interrupt their attack quickly, so they focus on us, denying them further victims. We must counterattack decisively and press forward until the threat is neutralized.
In a typical suburban shopping mall, this type of combat most likely won’t end in a couple of minutes. The time it takes to battle two or more squads may be a couple of hours or several hours.
Can you honestly say you are prepared for such an attack? Many malls will provide local law enforcement access to the back corridors and halls for training and walk-throughs. They may also teach you how to operate their security cameras and how to gain quick access to them.
I hope we never face an attack like we saw in Kenya, but I am confident that if we do, American law enforcement will provide a quick and successful response.