Aurora Shooting Dispatch Recording Analysis

An examination of the dispatch recording for the July 20, 2012, Aurora, CO theater mass shooting event.


On the morning of Friday, July 20th, 2012, just after midnight in Aurora, Colorado, our country witnessed one of the worst mass shootings in our history. As with any such horrific event, there are a few things that we in public safety must strive to do.

We must recognize and support the grieving of the survivors as they mourn the loss of the victims.

We must recognize and honor any and all heroic acts that occurred during the incident and in response to it.

We must perform the proper After Action Reviews (AARs) to assess our own performance and find ways, if any, to improve it.

The following commentary is in no way a criticism of any of the responding units to the event from any discipline of public safety. It is the opinion of the editorial staff here at Officer.com, and of our columnists who have contributed to this piece, that the men and women who responded to the incident did an admirable job.

This commentary is meant purely to share some information with our brothers and sisters in public safety that we might better our own future response should we find ourselves in similar situations.

BE ADVISED / CAUTION: This recording is over 24 minutes long. Parts of the recording linked below are quite graphic in nature to include the clear audio of some of the victims suffering and descriptions of their wounds.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO AUDIO

Observations:

The dispatcher deserves a medal. Throughout the incident she remains calm and doesn't get flustered as the officers on the scene have to change their plans, evolve their response, join and then separate communications channels, etc. A calm dispatcher means efficiency and helps to keep the officers (and others) responding calm as well.

Less than one minute from the original dispatch they recognize the need for lots of manpower. Lincoln-25 calls for "all available cars." The dispatcher had just reported at least one person shot but "hundreds of people running around." We need to consider this and think about our own manpower numbers. If your agency had to respond to a movie theater, quite often located in malls, does any given shift have the manpower to do so? If not, do you have the necessary mutual aid agreements in place to call on the support of bordering/nearby agencies?

At about the 1:30 there are five units that have called "on scene" and the dispatcher decides to patch the channels to keep communications clear. It should be noted that five units on scene in under a minute-and-a-half is impressive but probably unique to an urban area. What if the scene had been more rural?

At the 1:49 mark the dispatcher advises someone is still shooting inside "per an employee." Something we all need to be aware of is the unavoidable time delay in such reporting. The dispatcher cannot (typically) be on the phone taking emergency calls AND dispatching on the radio, so the operator on the phone has to take the info, clarify it, write it and then pass it to the dispatcher who then communicates it to the troops on the street. That 10 or 15 second delay can see a lot of change on the scene. If what you hear on the radio doesn't precisely match what you see in front of you, unless it presents an immediate officer survival or response concern, don't argue with the dispatcher about it. The dispatcher never intentionally gives us bad information, but the information may be "too late" by virtue of unavoidable delay.

Just past the two minute mark Lincoln-25 calls for officers at the back of the theater obviously thinking about a perimeter and containment. A different officer (514) makes the first call for an ambulance.

Just under the three minute mark Theater 9 is identified as the immediate scene of the shooting. All of the officers have responded quickly and efficiently but we cannot alter the laws of physics. We have to get their safely. Undoubtedly someone somewhere will complain about it having taken the officers "so long" to respond when realistically there was no way to respond any faster. Agency administrators/leadership should anticipate and be prepared to address those complaints.

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