Rethinking Active Shooter Response

The standard ‘quad,’ four-officer response is not only ineffective, but impractical.

Not since 9/11 has any one criminal incident shaken the American people like the Newtown, Conn., massacre of elementary school students and their teachers at Sandy Hook School. Consequently, the threat of active shooters is on the minds of both the public and law enforcement. And perhaps now that so many people in law enforcement and the public are looking for ways to prevent active shooter attacks, it’s time to rethink the way that we respond to these attacks.

When I first became a police officer, I viewed responding to an active shooter event, especially at a school, as the most stressful and significant thing that I would ever possibly experience. I spent hours researching the subject as a whole by researching previous events, both in the U.S. and abroad.

Check out this photo gallery: Northern Virginia Community College Active Shooter Training

After I became an instructor for my department, I expanded my research by polling officers and agencies from across the country. I have also had the privilege of attending some great training offered by some very reputable trainers and training groups.

Based on my research and training, I am of the opinion that the standard “quad,” four-officer response is not only ineffective, but impractical. In fact, the only incident I know of where an attacker was stopped by a four-officer or more team response was the 2003 incident at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.

In all of the incidents I have researched, once the shooters were confronted by an armed response, no other innocents were killed. In each of these incidents, with the exception once again of the Case Western Reserve University shooting, the initial armed response met by the attacker consisted of one or two officers or civilians.

That’s why my agency started with a two-officer response when it created its active shooter response program. In addition, the training encourages any officer who is willing to go in solo to do so. The single-officer response that ended the 2009 Carthage, N.C., nursing home shooting and the reaction by a single, off-duty officer that helped stop the 2007 Salt Lake City Trolley Square Mall shooting are excellent examples of how one officer can make a very big difference.

The Sacrifice Question

Since my agency has started this training, there have been three questions commonly posed by participating officers.

One of the most pressing questions that we in the law enforcement community must answer about active shooter response involves the sacrifice of officers to save endangered civilians. In other words, in an active shooter incident, are losses of police officers acceptable?

The short and long answer to this question is an emphatic no. But if that’s true, how can we encourage single-officer response to such a dangerous situation?

Despite what you might think, single-officer response is not the same as sacrificing an officer to save innocents. A single officer on scene has advantages when engaging an active shooter that tip the odds in that officer’s favor.

Officer vs. Shooter

You have been trained to deal with active shooter incidents. In most cases, the active shooter is not a trained combat operative. You have been trained and you can use your training to take the fight to him and foil his plans for mass murder.

If you have received the proper training for responding to an active shooter, then you should know how to search a building for a shooter without unnecessarily exposing yourself to fire. Tactics such as corner rounding, sometimes referred to as slicing the pie, bounding, and use of cover and concealment are practical skills that we all should have and should be refining on a regular basis.

Related Photo Gallery: How Teachers, Administrators Can Respond to Active Shooters

One great way to practice these techniques and tactics is in force-on-force training. Many agencies, especially those that are progressive, make force-on-force training with airsoft guns, Simunitions, or paintball guns an integral part of their regular training schedules. The benefits of this type of training are well known, and if your department doesn’t provide it, then find some of this training on your own. It’s the kind of experience that can really make a difference when the bullets are real.

Another advantage that you have over most active shooters is the quality of your weapons. Long guns, especially patrol rifles or carbines, have become much more prevalent in today’s police arsenal. A long gun is a force multiplier that allows a trained single officer to put accurate fire into targets at greater distances than those afforded by handguns. Remember, distance favors the trained shooter.

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