Remember the good old days, back when you first got out of the academy, and everything was black and white? All you worried about then was getting through the shift and making sure you kept the powers that be off your back. As the song says, "I was so much younger then, I'm older than that now." I don't know who sang it, because I'm getting to old to remember I guess (Editor's Note: Bob Dylan, "My Back Pages," 1964). Time passed and you allegedly got smarter or more knowledgeable and you got promoted to the level of your competence. Some would say that would be to the level or your own incompetence, I have seen both in my career.
If you are like me and work in a university setting, or if you work anywhere near a college campus since the Virginia Tech insult to our collective sanity, you must have noticed some changes in the air, and not all of them for the better. For the good side, there have been some real strides made in understanding crisis management by both the police and administration of our communities, and our counterparts out there in the real world. I don't think there is a any part of the Town-Gown equation that now feels that if (I should say, "when," thanks, media moguls), an incident like that reoccurs, they can handle it on their own without some type of planning, preparedness, and training. This was driven home to me just yesterday, when the Critical Scene Incident Management class I instruct was posted for registration and it filled in four hours. That is an accomplishment that, prior to 4/16, would have taken days to do if it was filled at all. Even the composition of the class was different, with about 45% of the class being non-police. The message that you can't manage something if you don't know what it has finally, painfully sunk in to our communities. To their credit, and frankly, to my surprise, they are doing something about it. In general, the communities in which we work have become a little bit easier to work in and get things done the right way.
Now comes, at least as I see it, the bad part. In the effort to protect our communities, there have been a number of things that have emerged as options.
There is the technology problem, where our unbridled love of the technological solution has really come to the forefront. First there is the notification issue. In some respects, has become the "Chicken Little" approach to crisis management. There have been efforts to want to install sirens, reverse 911, e-mail blasts, text message systems, smoke signals, whatever you can think of, someone wants to do it. All these systems have their place, and taken as a whole they can most likely form the basis for a fairly effective notification system.
The problem is that every profit-making individual with a laptop and a cell network is out there trying to sell you something and making promises that are, at best, ambitious and at worst, downright lies. My all time favorites are the text message people. I will qualify this by saying there are a few companies that have their act together and have the answers that at least make sense. On the other side, there was the one that I dealt with who pretty much guaranteed that as long as I was in this galaxy, and there are a few people who think I am not, I would be able get a timely message out in a hurry when we needed to do so. Just to be a spoiler here, I asked the question, "After we subscribe all our community to it, what would happen if like at Virginia Tech, the subject was a community member and getting the same info as the people we were warning?" The response was that this was unlikely, because the subject would be too busy to notice a text message, and when we found out who it was, we could shut them out. When I said, "You do realize, these people think about these things, too," the company lost interest at talking to anyone at my pay grade. Fortunately, our IT people were not fooled either.
Now these things bother me, but to be honest, the issue that bothers me most both as a police officer and as a supervisor and manager, is the number and diversity of the active shooter programs out there. It is my opinion that most police officers will respond bravely and quickly to any situation where lives are at risk. I truly believe that they will do so at considerable risk to their own safety, and in some cases pay an awful price for it. This was never a question in my mind. It is, in fact, something we all accepted when we got into the field. The problem I have with this is that active shooter programs are being seen at some levels as a cure-all for these incidents. After seeing and hearing about some of the training and talking with people who have been through it, it feels like all it is going to do is add to the body count. I do not now or will I ever espouse that we do nothing, but the thought of a diamond formation of officers from any department moving into a scene after a heavily armed individual who has planned this event out better than we will ever train for it due to a number of reasons like time, budget, and other sundry issues, leaves me cold. I do not want to send my officers into a death trap. Back in the 20th century, one of the things that was drummed into me in the academy and other places like the local pub was that we all go home at the end of the shift. This solution leaves me cold for other reasons. If you have not set some perimeters and someone goes into the scene after it starts and gets killed, you will be damned. If, for the same reason, the subject escapes, you will be damned. I guess in some respects you will be damned one way or the other.
Last of all, can anyone point out to me where this has worked successfully? Every case study I have read still has all the victims dead really quickly, before teams could form up to enter the scene. I guess that is a leadership question for all of us. Are we doing this because it is the right thing, or because it is the right way to do it? Not an easy decision, especially in this day and age of relentless 20-20 hindsight. It makes me want to crank up the old eight-track and listen to the Stones sing Paint It Black while imbibing in some truth serum and looking for the answers.