In this April 20, 1999 file photo Eric Harris, left, and Dylan Klebold, carrying a TEC-9 semi-automatic pistol, are seen in a photo made from a security camera image in the cafeteria at Columbine High School, in Littleton, Colo., during their shooting rampage. AP Photo/Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department, File
FEATURED IN TRAINING
U.S. law enforcement collectively began active shooter training following the Columbine (Colo.) High School massacre in 1999. The disaster of that day and similar events that occurred nationwide clearly demonstrated the need for law enforcement to reexamine the means and methods to respond to ongoing violent incidents.
In the past, police agencies held to the concepts of contain, isolate and negotiate. But the murders of the Columbine students proved we can’t wait—it was a “sea change” event. The lesson: In a fight to stop attackers whose sole mission is to murder as many people as possible, police response in the first few minutes will determine the outcome of the following hours.
Across the nation, police departments trained officers to respond against attackers using the first patrol officers on scene. Regardless of the name of the training, the focus was to form a team of officers equipped with rifles or shotguns, and have them move to the sound of the gunfire to stop the threat.
Our Illinois Tactical Officers Association (ITOA) teamed up with our friends from LAPD SWAT to develop a training program. In the years following Columbine, we reviewed active shooter incidents and evolved our training to consider both team and individual officer response. Without debating the merits or hazards, there may be a time when one officer is all there is. The officer’s willingness and ability to engage the offender(s) is pivotal to ending the threat.
This single officer response was validated on March 29, 2009 at a Carthage, N.C., nursing home when Officer Justin Garner single-handedly stopped the active shooter and prevented a slaughter of helpless residents. I’ve discussed this situation at length with 30-year police veteran Ron Borsch who runs the South East Law Enforcement Regional Academy in Ohio. Borsch has long been a proponent of the approach that the first officer on scene is first to fight. Seconds lost in responding result in seconds given to the attacker. He makes a compelling argument.
The Building Blocks
Yet the response model doesn’t have to be one way or the other. The basic building block to respond to violence in progressive incidents is a well-trained, equipped and capable police officer. He or she can fight alone or with others in a team or squad.
The key is to be willing and able to take on both the day-to-day criminals and the extraordinary terror threats that we as the community protectors have sworn to be. There continues to be buy-in on the part of chiefs and sheriffs to reinforce these training efforts. The acceptance of such threats has made the patrol rifle a common tool along with breaching equipment, shields, helmets and other gear that was once the domain of SWAT. All this is now found in many patrol cars across the country.
New Threats & Revised Training
Then came another sea change event in Mumbai, India, with the multiple terrorist attacks of November 2008. The threat was no longer teenage attackers, but well-trained, armed and committed terrorists. At that moment, Mumbai police were unprepared to respond to multiple attacks in progress across their city. The reality was that we in America weren’t either. Our template for response again required review and revision.
One lesson learned from the Mumbai event was that first responder patrol officers must have the ability to move into violent conflict equipped with a set of core fighting skills that afford the highest likelihood of success. In the past, too often we spoke about officer survival as being the key end result. But survival isn’t enough. The ability to draw breath after a violent incident shouldn’t be the final goal. Survival doesn’t always mean success.
Our goal: To train, equip and lead officers into the most difficult and dangerous conditions and emerge afterward having protected our citizens, defended ourselves and defeated the threat. That’s success.
This goal will only be met with increased training and preparedness. The Multiple Attack Counter Terror Action Capabilities (MACTAC) program created by LAPD, Orange County (Calif.) and Las Vegas Metro PD is an excellent example. The MACTAC program develops teamwork among officers under extraordinary circumstances. The methodology bears heavily on the military’s small-unit tactics and leadership skills. In a Mumbai-type event, this is precisely what is needed. As former LAPD Chief William Bratton stated, should such an attack take place, LAPD officers will move from their community policing model into an immediate counter-attack response model.
Like LAPD, we can fill both a community policing role and provide a hardcore fight response capability.
What are the core skills that will develop fight-capable police officers? We currently offer law enforcement training programs through our State of Illinois Mobile Training Unit No.3, known as NEMRT. Each of the following is offered throughout the year in venues across our region. Thousands of officers have attended both the Train the Trainer courses and the Patrol End User classes.
A patrol officer trained and practiced in the above skills has the individual ability to face the growing number of threats officers encounter. But equally important is the ability to come together with similarly trained officers from other agencies and work with greater precision and effect.