Running amok

Law enforcement agencies reach across borders to teach tactics and better combat mass violence


     On March 11, 2009 a little town in southwestern Germany, Winnenden, Baden-Wurttemberg, made international headlines. Early in the morning 17-year-old Tim Kretschmer went on a shooting spree at the Albertville-Realschule, killing 15 and then committing suicide himself. In Germany, the shooting was referred to as "Amoklauf" — such as "running amok" — when someone runs wildly, without self-control, like a madman or lunatic. It is not called "active shooter," as not every situation where mass violence occurs involves guns. In an Amok-run the motivation of the hurting or killing can stem from any number of mediums — the means of control can vary just as much.

Ripple effect

     This was not the first incident of its kind in the country. Most Amok crises in Germany, until the end of the 1990s, were committed by adults. That changed after Littleton. "When Littleton happened, we at the police trainer organization in Germany knew immediately that we would get the same in Germany and also in other countries in Europe," says Ecko Niebergall, president of Polizeitrainer in Deutschland (PiD). Captain Niebergall has over 30 years experience with the Hesse State Police (Germany) and is a consultant of European Union law enforcement training programs. "We say it's like Coca Cola or the hamburger … everything, sooner or later, is also in Europe. And it's the same with crime."

     History has shown that active shooter incidents occur in clusters, and media exposure in all its forms, can fuel the fire. Concerns for media attention (how much is too much?), a shooter's "fifteen minutes" and copycat crimes exist as off-shoot problems of the problem itself. Shocking crime scenes make their way across the globe in seconds, thanks to the powers of supra-broadcasting and the Internet. Niebergall points out that the time in which such things flip over from the U.S. to Europe is much shorter than it used to be. Where it used to take ten years for "copycat" crimes to catch on abroad, it now takes as little as a few months.

     One comfort, perhaps, is that each time something like this happens, it gives responders more tools to fight back with. Public awareness is now at its peak: Companies, schools and law enforcement teams are better equipped than ever and are organizing themselves worldwide to stem the bloodshed.

     After Littleton, German Amok trainers, despite wary protestations from local politicians, began mobilizing to prepare officers should a similar situation happen in their backyard. In 2002 they got worse than Littleton — they got Erfurt. On April 26, 2002 19-year-old gunman Robert Steinhauser opened fire and killed sixteen people — faculty, students and one police officer — before killing himself at the Gutenberg-Gymnasium. According to Niebergall, that was the turning point where German politicians realized that "American circumstances," had arrived. They realized now that training preparation was sorely needed.

Tact and tactics

     Several German state police agencies then began training with PiD, as the group had already established itself and had been training jointly with international organizations to devise and practice tactics for four- and two-man teams. The training has since become an international affair. Since 2006 PiD has coordinated the European Trainer's Conference in Nuremburg on a yearly basis. This year's meeting, held on March 12, saw over 300 police trainers from 12 different countries. The conference provides an apt platform where trainers can speak to experts and other members and share with one another a breadth of experience. The intent is to contribute to the "urgently needed cooperation between law enforcement practitioners on a national and international level" and "be a decisive factor for the question of how to master the challenges of internal and external security."

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