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Imagine yourself sitting in a restaurant
one morning. You look up from your paper and the waitress
says, “Two eggs over easy, wheat toast, hash
browns and sausage. Will there be anything else sir?”
You begin to respond, “No thank…” but
before you can finish, there is a loud crash and your table
is knocked over by the front end of a truck that has crashed
through the wall.
Before your brain can process what has just
happened, a man armed with a semi-auto handgun steps calmly
from the truck and begins deliberately shooting patrons.
You instinctively draw your off-duty Glock 26. You can
tell the shooter has tunnel vision and is so focused on
the screaming patrons in his sights that he has not noticed
you acquiring a sight picture directly in the middle of
his right ear.
Without a word or conscious thought you
fire. The round enters the suspect’s head through
his ear and the he slumps to the floor lifeless.
Thank God you were there. Thank God you
This is exactly what happened in a restaurant
in Killeen, Texas…except there was
no officer in a position to end the killing spree of real-life
shooter George Henard. In Killeen, 23 innocent citizens
were killed and 24 were wounded.
Cases like this have become so common that
law enforcement has coined the term “Active Shooter” while
coming to the realization that waiting for a SWAT team
to respond to such a scene would cost lives. The Active
Shooter requires an immediate, effective and efficient
act of courage. This is one time when a police
officer who is on-duty or off needs to ride to the sound
of gunfire and end the threat with a well placed bullet
as soon as possible.
The list of cities that have been struck
by the Active Shooter phenomenon is long, including Austin,
TX; Edmond, OK; Moss Lake, WA; Littleton, CO; Jonesboro,
AR; Oak Creek, WI, Red Lake, MN—and now Blacksburg,
VA on the campus of Virginia Tech University...the bloodiest
Active Shooter incident in history to date.
Police agencies nationwide are designing
training programs to address the possibility that they
might face similar threats in their jurisdictions. The
ultimate goal of these programs is to eliminate and minimize
casualties in the event their officers are met with this
Police departments do not have to wait until
bullets are flying and people are dying to stop the Active
Shooter. Officers can step between the shooter and his
intended victim long before the screaming and the bleeding.
An arrest can be made in one of the earlier stages of the
Active Shooter’s development.
There are five phases of the Active Shooter
During this stage the shooter pictures himself
doing the shooting. He fantasizes about the headlines he
will receive. He fantasizes about the news coverage. He
might draw pictures of the event and make Web site postings.
Would-be Active Shooters in the Fantasy Stage will often
discuss their desires with friends and foes alike. If news
of these fantasies is passed on to law enforcement, police
intervention can take place prior to the suspect acting
on them. In this case there will be zero casualties.
In this stage the suspect is deciding on
the "who, what, when, where and how" of his day
of infamy. He will often put his plans down in writing.
He will quite often discuss his plans with others. In timing
his move, he might decide to attack on a day the school’s
liaison officer will be in court. He will plan the time
and location to insure the most victims, or in some cases
to target specific victims.
He will determine the weapons he will need
and where he will get them. He will decide how to travel
to the target area and how to dress to conceal his weapons
without arousing suspicion.
If the police are tipped at this time, once
again intervention can be made prior to any rounds being
fired, keeping the death toll at zero.
During this stage the suspect may be obtaining
gun powder for his improvised explosive devices. He might
break into grandfather’s house to steal some weapons
and ammunition for the event. He might pre-position weapons
and explosives for the assault. Active Shooters have been
known to call friends and tell them not to go to school
or work on the scheduled day of the attack in an effort
to keep them out of the line of fire.
If one of these friends calls the police
about their concerns, officers have an opportunity to intervene
before the event.
The closer to the event, the more dangerous
it will be for any officer taking action. The Approach
Stage is a very dangerous stage. The suspect has made his
plans and decided to act. He will be walking, driving,
or riding toward his intended target, armed with his tools
Contact with the soon-to-be Active Shooter
could come in the form of a citizen call, a traffic stop
or a “Terry Stop.” A thorough investigation
can still lead to an arrest of the suspect before he brings
down a multitude of victims in a needless shooting or bombing.
Make no mistake about it, the officer making
contact with the suspect during this stage is in danger,
but as long as he or she keeps an open mind on every single
street contact, they can stay safe. There is a fine line
between having your name on an award and your name on a
wall. The difference is often being prepared, being aware
and being highly skilled. This contact, if approached in
a trained, tactically sound manner, could become a life-saver,
a career-maker, and end in zero casualties.
Once the shooter opens fire, immediate action
needs to be taken. Initial responding officers need to
rapidly proceed to the suspect and stop the threat. The
Active Shooter will continue to kill until he runs out
of victims or ammunition. This suspect is unique, because
he is fully dedicated to going for the “top score,” which
is measured in number of kills. The more, the better.
The sooner an on- or off-duty officer intervenes
with an effective, efficient act of courage, the fewer
funerals. In past incidents, Active Shooters have been
thwarted by police officers, security guards, school teachers,
(one principal recently died successfully stopping an active
shooter in a Wisconsin school), and in one case a high
school football captain.
Responding officers will be able to utilize
these following factors to their advantage:
- An honorable gunfighter is needed to
stop the shooter.
- A police officer is a trained, honorable
- The Active Shooter will be highly focused
on the killing.
- The scene will be loud and chaotic.
- An officer can use the chaos as cover
to move quietly to a position of advantage.
- Terrified victims will be able to direct
you to the shooter.
- The sound of the shooting will also
help direct you to the shooter.
- Upon arriving, if it is an Active Shooting
in Progress you do not have to verbalize if it endangers
yourself and others. Take the shot.
- If you manage to contain the subject
in a non-violent pose, initiate a classic SWAT response.
A single officer responding to an Active
Shooter call must realize that he or she can minimize casualties
by the successful actions they take, but he may not be
able to completely prevent all loss of innocent life. That
officer must remember that the shooter--not the officer--is
ultimately responsible for those deaths. This is a critical
point to understand and believe in order to better insure
emotional recovery after a traumatic event like this.
Upon arriving at the scene there will be
little time for thought so the preparation should be made
in advance. The officer has to decide in a moment whether
to contain and wait for additional units or to take immediate
action, if innocents are dying with each shot.
You may have to risk your life. This is
a dire situation and we may take casualties.
Remember “long guns for long halls.” Put
superior fire power into your hands and radio as much information
as possible as you move. Making an entry with four is better
than three. Making an entry with three is better than two.
Making an entry with one is better than nothing.
Do not throw your life away. Breathe. Think
and advance using the chaos as your diversion. You may
have to pass areas that have not been cleared. You may
have to ignore fleeing witnesses who scream, “He
has an AK-47! He’s killing people! He’s killing
people! He’s in the office right now!”
Gather as many facts as you can on the move.
You may have to move right by injured and deceased victims
without stopping to help. You must attempt to move to a
position of advantage that affords you a field of vision
and cover as well as a clear shot at the suspect as quickly
as possible. Attempt to do this without alerting the suspect
of your presence.
Quickly assess the suspect’s actions
and if he is in the process of shooting and killing then
do not advise, warn, or request. Take the shot! Make the
shot! Break up your tunnel vision and look for additional
threats. Communicate your actions, the situation and location.
Reload during the lull. This should be done all while watching
the downed suspect and looking for accomplices. Secure
the suspect. Assess his condition.
As you read this, if you carry off-duty,
take the time to ask the following:
Do I have a weapon I have trained with?
Do I have a way to identify myself as a police officer?
Do I have a way to secure a suspect I have shot or arrested off-duty?
Do I have a way to communicate (cell phone)?
Do I have reload capability?
Have I participated in hands-on “Active Shooter Response” training?
If you answered no to any of these questions
you need to take some kind of additional action so you
can answer yes.
If you do not carry off-duty, take
the time to ask the following:
Should I carry off-duty in today’s
post 9-11 world?
If someone was shooting in my child’s school, would I take action armed
If I was about to be shot by an Active Shooter, would I refuse to go quietly
into the night?
If you answered yes to any of these questions
you need to consider carrying a weapon off-duty. Your
first step should be to check your department’s
policy and the laws in your area.
Due to recent changes in Federal law it
is much easier for a sworn police officer to carry a concealed
weapon out of their jurisdiction when off-duty. New Federal
law has also been enacted to allow for retired police officers
to carry concealed weapons if they are trained and have
proper identification and authorization from their agencies.
The Active Shooter is a very real challenge
of our time. The possibility exists that any one of you
reading this might be faced with this challenge in your
lives. It matters not if you are a patrol officer, chief,
sheriff, detective, school liaison officer, DARE officer,
or whether you are on- or off-duty. They might be a threat
to you, your family, and the people you are sworn to protect.
When you least expect it you may have to “ride
to the sound of gunfire. ” Are you prepared?