Ever since the Columbine High School attack in 1999, law enforcement has been steadily evolving response protocols and training to support such. The protocols have evolved from the four-man-diamond and teams making entry to single-officer response. The concern of officer-on-officer shootings has always been there because not every officer who responds may be in uniform. An example of this occurred in Palmer Park, Maryland when Michael Ford opened fire in front of the Prince George’s County Police Department’s Landover station. Responding in plainclothes, Detective Jacai Colson was shot by a fellow officer who didn’t recognize him. Detective Colson died from his injuries and that tragedy haunts his family, his fellow officers and most assuredly the officer who shot him. That’s an example of how a shooting can go wrong even when those involved work for the same agency. Can you imagine how this challenge is magnified when officers are responding to a dynamic and chaotic event and don’t know what to expect? Everyone in the incident scene area is a suspect until proven otherwise. This reality has to be kept in mind both by the officers responding and by all those immediate responders who are on the scene when the incident launches and who feel compelled to take some type of action to neutralize the bad guy(s).
The challenge is twofold, one from each perspective:
For the uniformed officers responding to the 9-1-1 calls, they have no way of knowing who on the scene with a gun is a good guy or a bad guy but they (the responding officers) are desperately aware of the fact that there can be good guys and they certainly don’t want to engage any of them with potentially lethal force.
For the immediate responder on the scene when the event starts, they have to know that the responding law enforcement officers face this conundrum and want to do everything they (the immediate responders) can to minimize the potential for miscommunication / misidentification that could, in all reality, end up with good guys shot.
The question is how to address the problem. There is an assortment of potential identification items sold that include everything from badges to reflective sashes.
The reality is that badges are hard to see at best. Even if the badge is facing the responding officer, what does the badge say? Is it real? Does it say “security”? “Police”? “Fugitive Enforcement”? “K-Mart”? Badges are a dime a dozen and the fact that one is present does not prove that the person displaying it is a good guy. Yes, it certainly should and will slow down the responding officers from delivering lethal force, but it’s not guarantee that the person wearing/displaying it is a confirmed good guy. The same goes for a reflective sash. They are great for visibility and are useful provided the person wears it every day and remembers to pull it out / display it when the feces hits the oscillating rotator. What does the sash say? It’s the same collection of terms as above and the same reality of application: the person wearing it may or may not actually be what the sash says. Displaying it / wearing it does not guarantee to the responding officers that there’s a good guy on scene. That won’t get determined until after the scene has been secured and, unfortunately, part of securing the scene is neutralizing those who are shooting at others.
The best way to address this challenge is for all those who legally carry a weapon, whether an off-duty officer or armed citizen, to realize and train for uniformed law enforcement arrival on the scene of any active killer event. Realistically speaking, it’s going to be near impossible to do this in the heat of the moment.
If you are an off-duty officer or armed citizen and you see no choice or feel duty driven to intervene and take action during an active shooter / active killer event, after you’ve engaged the target, it is best to remain hyper-vigilant for the presence of responding officers. The absolute best posture you can take / have upon the arrival of uniformed officers is to have your weapon holstered or on the ground at your feet, with your hands empty and arms raised. Your best / safest posture is to obviously present no threat to the arriving officers or anyone else.
The challenge that lies therein is that the uniformed officers may well arrive while the threat is still present and you, the off-duty officer or armed citizen, are actively trying to neutralize or even find the threatening individual(s). Recognize this reality: If you are not in uniform and you are armed, presenting your weapon as you seek or engage a threat, the arriving officers may mistake you as part of the threat and engage you. This is a risk you recognize and accept when you draw your weapon and seek to take action.