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News from ILEETA 2010: Yesterday, today, and tomorrow

Afternoon sessions included an examination of off duty safety for officers and their families and a comparison of the Columbine and Virginia Tech incidents

After attendees had raided the neighboring room for a sufficient number of chairs to accommodate the packed conference room, PoliceOne Columnist and Street Survival Seminar Instructor Betsy Brantner Smith began her excellent session on training for off duty survival for officers and their families. Drawing from the philosophy of teaching by storytelling, and using numerous real world stories to drive home her points, the discussion centered on seven fundamental elements:

• Preparedness & Mindset
• Revenge Threats
• Off Duty Attire
• Off Duty Weapons
• Responding to Uniforms
• Values Resolutions
• What About My Family?

“Most law enforcement training focuses on getting you home in one piece at the end of you shift, and yet sixteen percent of police officer murders occur off duty,” She began. “Our families really don’t get us, and we really don’t get our families and one of the reasons is we don’t bring our families into our world. We don’t teach them about off duty survival — we don’t talk to them about what we’re thinking and what we’re trying to do when we’re off duty. How we’re trying to keep them safe and trying to keep ourselves safe. This class grew out of that fact, and that’s what I want to share with you here at ILEETA.”

For the next 120 minutes, Smith displayed dozens of images of cops who were murdered while off duty — from an incident in Baltimore in the 19th century to cases in which many of the people in attendance personally knew the police officers killed. Two hours could not have passed more quickly, as heartbreaking stories of tragedy were carefully balanced against inspiring tales of trimph, and peppered with occasional uproarious laughter. Familiar videos from Buck Savage and Calibre Press the Street Survival Seminar were intertwined with clips from South Park and advertisements from “the Trunk Monkey” campaign and other Internet video sensations.

At the of her talk, Brantner Smith focused in on the final, and in some ways, most important of the seven elements she introduced at the top of her talk: “What about my family?’

Among the many hard-hitting lessons in this segment, she said that officers should help ensure that their family members:

• never reveal or alert others to your police status
• know to always walk on your non-gun side
• understand your body language and commands
• be able to distinguish between cover and concealment
• understand and be prepared to use calming techniques
• and know how to alert you to danger when they see it

Suffice it to say that if you’ve ever got the opportunity to talk with her about the topic, be prepared to spend some significant time listening and learning.

Following the session, the tide of attendees ebbed into the hallway overlooking the south parking lot, where many of us were delighted to discover that a demonstration the Safariland Wallbanger was about to get underway outside.

Sandy Wall, a 28-year veteran of the Houston Police Department and the inventor of the innovative breaching device, had set up a door to demonstrate the capabilities his tool gives to SWAT teams.

“I look at it the same as you would the game of golf. You would not take just one club along to play a round of golf—you’ve got different clubs for different shots you’ll need to take. This device does not replace explosive breaching, nor does it eliminate the need for manual ram or shotgun breaching. This is just another tool in your bag you can choose from, depending on the situation,” Wall said.

With a “Fire in the hole!” one Safariland colleague alerted attendees in the conference hall all about twenty yards away while another shouted the same warning to anyone unaware in the parking lot, Sandy readied the Defense Technology flash-bang in the “door key” attachment at the end of the 22-pound device.

Then, boom — door no longer closed or locked.

I then visited the wonderful folks at VirTra Systems, who had set up their high-definition training simulation equipment in a small conference room.

VirTra’s Brian Wardell set the simulator system up with a scenario, and proceeded to watch me fall almost immediately into the trap of auditory exclusion and tunnel vision. The system, which can offer a nearly countless variety of scenarios, put me at an unknown trouble call atop a parking structure. The discomfort of the Threat-fire safe return fire system was just enough negative reinforcement to know I had quickly failed that exercise. By the third scenario, which was admittedly less complex, I had dropped all three gunmen with multiple hits each.

With a price tag of just more than $150,000 — far less than what I had expected it to be — it’s unsurprising that the system has already been adopted by dozens of police agencies in the United States.

Yesterday after the opening ceremonies, I had the opportunity to listen to an excellent presentation by James Burke on the similarities between the Columbine and Virginia Tech school active shooter incidents, and what those similarities mean for educators, school administrators, and law enforcement. Burke referenced PoliceOne Columnist Dan Marcou and his Five Phases of the Active Shooter.

1. Fantasy Phase
2. Planning Phase
3. Preparation Phase
4. Approach Phase
5. Implementation Phase

A future feature will further detail Burke’s presentation, but meanwhile, here is some food for thought: Among the 900 pages of writings and drawings created by Eric Harris and Dylan Kleibold during the Fantasy Phase of their attack, were reports written for school about Charles Manson and Nazism. There was even a short story written by Kleibold about a man in a black trench coat who is taunted by and kills people he identified as “preps,” which was likely to be code for the students he and Harris targeted on that day 15 years ago this week.

In the case of Seung-hui Cho at Virginia Tech, suicidal and homicidal ideations had been identified by Cho’s middle school teachers, and writings connected to the Columbine shootings during his 8th grade year of school. Cho had even written a paper for one of his Virginia Tech creative writing classes that centered on a young man who hates the students at his school and plans to kill them and himself. The writing contained numerous parallels to the events of April 16, 2007 as well as the recorded messages later sent to NBC News.

At the core of his talk, Burke urged attendees to bring back to their PDs the understanding that a greater level of dialog between police and the teachers and administrators at Cho’s, Kleibold’s and Harris’ schools.

Tomorrow, Burke will be one of several video interviews I will conduct with PoliceOne video crew. I’ll also speak with Firearms Columnist Dick Fairburn, Driving Columnist Travis Yates, Contributor John Bennett, and noted police psychology expert Alexis Artwohl. Watch out for those segments in coming weeks on PoliceOne.

It’s about time for me to head out to the Hospitality Suite. See you online next time...

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