Active Shooter Response

By now, the majority of law enforcement departments in the United States train for the Active School Shooter scenario. The law enforcement community has realized that this scenario is the Patrol Officer's responsibility. The burden can no longer be passed to a Specialized Weapons and Tactics Unit. Patrol officers must engage the threat with force on force response. During my law enforcement experience, the question that always seems to come up regarding an engagement is tactics. Which tactics are the best, how many individuals should clear a room, which weapons work the best... this discussion can go on for days. Perhaps the best answer to this question is a basic one; which ever tactics keep you alive! The reality is that even best proven tactics will not work if individuals have not incorporated them in their training. Preparation has proven to be the key to success.

In conversing with peers and reading a variety of reference materials the current debate is no longer on who is responsible for stopping an Active Shooter, nor is it on entry tactics, such as, double stack, single stack, T formation or Diamond formation, but rather should entries be made as a one person entry team or not. Some critiques of a single person entry argue that those who dare go in by themselves suffer from the "John Wayne" syndrome. Others claim that if you do not go in by yourself then you are not doing what you took an oath to do. Regardless of the arguments, who's right and who's wrong, the reality is law enforcement has to go in and eliminate the ongoing threat.

Before any of us weigh in on an opinion, I would just ask that we methodically examine the circumstances surrounding our obligation. We, law enforcement, are expected to enter a building, for this article we will use a high school, where we will engage at least one but probably more armed individuals that have already killed, or at the very least have severely wounded other humans with the intent to kill. History has taught us that our adversary is armed with not only small arms but explosive devices and has strategically placed them in places to inflict mass casualties. Psychologically, we anticipate that we will hear noises, smell gunpowder, observe mangled bodies of teenaged children, while some will be crying for help. We know that we need to ignore them, stay mission focused and confront the threat. So now after arriving at the school with our adrenaline sky rocketing and our heart beat in the area of 140 plus beats per minute the moment has arrived where we see what we are made off. We know we have a semi-automatic handgun with two additional magazines with total capacity in the arena of 46 rounds. What do we do? We revert back to training is what we do. From the academy days we have learned "step one arrive safely, wait for back-up" and then proceed. Why do we think that this will now change?

Historically we know that time is not on our side if we want to save lives. Then the question remains, why should we not enter right when we get there? After all we are sworn to take immediate action and save lives. Logically we can articulate that the majority of individuals who partake in this type of crime will kill themselves once confronted by law enforcement. Their purpose is to kill as many as they can before being confronted and do not take hostages. Seldom do they wait to ambush law enforcement. So the answer should be simple... go in. However, this is a logical answer. This is the frontal lobe of the brain rationalizing.

The reality is that the general law enforcement populace does not train to react as a lone individual. Our training ingrains the idea of back up. Over time this creates a psychological dependence that needs to change. Departments across the country are practicing four to five person entry teams. One benefit is superior fire power with fields of responsibility. However, do we have enough time to wait for the entire team to arrive while innocents are getting slaughtered? This is a question that will have to be answered by the arriving individual.

As stated earlier in the article, preparation is the key to success. We know the results of an Active Shooter incident. We know our individual jurisdiction's ability for a timely response to a critical incident. Knowing this we should design training to match our environment. If the next arriving officer is 10 to 15 minutes away, and you are the only officer on scene, waiting may not be the appropriate decision. Regardless, preparation and training are the keys to survival. Officers need to prepare for worst-case scenarios. This preparation should not be burdened only on the department but each officer must take responsibility to enhance their own survivalist skills. This includes firearms proficiency.

Budget cuts are occurring throughout the nation. The majority of state and local law enforcement agencies require weapons qualifications yearly on stationary targets. Those same qualifying officers may be faced with making a single person entry. Officers must use the department standards as the bottom base line of acceptance and take the initiative to better themselves. Equally important as weapons proficiency, is creating the survivalist mindset. Many books by very experienced authors can highlight important steps to bettering oneself and enhance our psychologically preparedness.

Psychological preparedness also includes envisioning oneself in a what if scenario. Officers should take the time, regardless of assignment, to walk the school hallways, making mental notes of cover and concealment alcoves, location of entry and exit points, stairwells and security cameras, and equally important, location of staff and special needs children. However if we, as the law enforcement professional, do not take the initiative to educate ourselves then we will lack preparedness and cling to either the DENIAL that it will never happen in our jurisdiction, or bluff ourselves in believing that we are steadfast and combat ready.

Benefits and consequences exist for both single and multiple person entry teams. A single person entry can respond rapidly to eliminate the threat, subsequently saving lives. However, the consequence is that the person has limited firepower, has to cover more fields of fire, and is lacking the physical and psychological support of another officer. Benefits of multiple officer entry include superior firepower, dedicated areas of responsibility to detect oncoming threat, and increased psychological support. Consequently, the ability for cross fire exists. Another factual occurrence that I have seen repeatedly in training scenarios where we only have artificial stressors is officers lagging or hesitating, which often compromises team movements. But perhaps the most arguable consequence is delayed arrival of additional officers and formulation of an entry plan. These are just a few facts to consider when making the decision for entry teams.

So the question to one person, three person, or five person entry may be scenario driven; however, this is irrelevant. The real question is not the amount of officers that enters this hostile environment, but rather the preparedness of the entry component. There will be a time when the first arriving officer will have to take a long look at the person in the mirror and ask themselves did I prepare?