Active Threat Response Training: Key Questions

Photo was taken during Franklin County Sheriff’s Office active shooter training held last year at Immaculate Conception School.

 

By Brian N. O’Donnell for Calibre Press

The law enforcement priority of work and immediate goal during an active shooter event is to stop the threat. Find, fix, and finish. It is that simple. Resolution by way of shooter suicide, surrender, or lead poisoning is immaterial – the threat just needs to end. An understanding that if the shooter is still active, accurate fire is the fastest way to achieve this, must be the primary driver of police behaviors. This means that the police must position themselves to address, either with commands or physical contact, the threat. Regrettably, there have been ample opportunities for law enforcement agencies to study and learn from school shooting events and yet training and preparation gaps continue to emerge.

Theoretically, the initial response to an active shooter school event should not be difficult. Show up and stop the threat. It is just that easy – and just that difficult. The first car on scene should radio a quick assessment of what is unfolding and direct other officers in while getting ready to enter the school. There are a number of considerations we should all be thinking about when training for the response to an active threat. I’ll address many of them here.

Will an approaching officer have a plate carrier? Rifle? Breaching tools?

How comfortable is the officer with his gear? How skilled with a firearm? How confident?

How often has the officer trained with this gear and these tools? Have they ever actually forced open an interior locked school door? Exterior? Or any door? Think about the officer who pecks away at a car window with an ASP baton because they have never broken one before and must learn how to do so when seconds matter.

If a school is in lockdown, how do the police accomplish their primary goal? Have officers even walked the school to familiarize themselves with the layout? Will a rake and break work to access the shooter on the ground floor? Have officers ever been exposed to this concept? Figuring these things out on scene takes time, which is the one thing they do not have.

If officers can access the building, how comfortable are they with moving through and clearing rooms in two-, three-, or four-person configurations? How often have they had decision-based training for these likely activities during an active shooter event?

Do they have access to any ongoing training which replicates the realities they may have to navigate…the speed, emotional intensity, the ability to recognize and respond to changing dynamics? Having, or not having, this type of training will inform an officer’s actions, or inactions during an event.

Things get messier when multiple agencies are introduced and when an active shooter call goes out and everybody comes. Every jurisdiction within radio range heads that way. Local police, state police, sheriff’s deputies, off duty officers, and any alphabet agencies nearby. Everyone. Can they communicate? Do they have a pre-set shared frequency, or can they be patched over quickly?

Who is in charge? Who directs resources? Are plainclothes assets readily identifiable or are they just another person with a gun that will need to be addressed?

Fire and rescue agencies will respond eventually, as will parents. Is there a plan for all of this that has been practiced? Have the regional law enforcement agencies trained for this type of response together? Especially the initial response? This is not about a command staff tabletop exercise, this is about officers from different agencies forming up, entering, breaching if necessary, finding the threat and eliminating it – the type of thing that should happen before a command post even has time to stand up. A command post will generally only serve a function in the aftermath of an event, meaning the active threat is over, priority one complete.

The response to active shooting events must be understood by all parties to minimize casualties. An educated and engaged school staff are the first line of defense and must act with the understanding that law enforcement will come, just not fast enough.

Law enforcement should arrive prepared to gear up and go in, breaching as necessary – which is why every car should have a backpack style breaching kit. Meaningful training and planning by law enforcement for an active shooter event should be a priority for every jurisdiction, to include training with regional partners. As added benefits, officer skills required for successful resolution of active shooter events transfer well into every area of policing and training with adjoining jurisdictions can create strong regional relationships. At the very least, each LE agency should foster an expectation that constantly working to address an active threat as quickly as possible – with an enhanced tolerance for risk – should be an unquestioned cultural norm.

Developing meaningful individual officer competencies and interagency compatibility seems to be a good place to start fostering that culture. Time is not on anyone’s side but the shooter’s. Training is critical to success, and more importantly, the right kind of training. Training which develops creative problem-solving skills during complex, dynamic, and high stress activities. This will more likely transfer to better decision making and task execution in real-world events.

All in all, the fastest way to save lives is to end the threat. Period. That is the goal. It should be done as safely as possible, but if someone is shooting, officers should be actively working to stop it. Waiting for someone else to do it should not even enter an officer’s mind, let alone a supervisor’s.

Once the immediate threat is over, life-saving aid can begin. This is critical as the most preventable deaths in active shooter events come from unattended hemorrhage – people bleeding out.  Giving officers the appropriate tools and training to access and address an active threat should be a priority at every agency. These simple steps will save lives. There have been far too many of these for an agency or officers to be ill-prepared or ill-informed on how to best approach and resolve the event.

Thoughts to add? E-mail us at: editor@calibrepress.com

 About the author:

Brian N. O’Donnell retired as a Lieutenant with the City of Charlottesville, Virginia, Police Department. He served as an infantry officer in the United States Marine Corps and served with the Charlottesville police department for 25 years. He earned the Advanced Specialist designation by the Force Science Institute in 2018, and became an IADLEST National Certified Instructor in 2020.

O’Donnell has worked in patrol, as a SWAT member, as a detective with a regional narcotics task force, and as a full-time task force officer with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. He has been a supervisor as a patrol Sergeant, Patrol Shift Commander, Commander of the Strategic Policing Bureau, and the Training and Firearm’s Units Supervisor.

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What Happens to Officers During a Shooting Investigation

You’ve been in an officer-involved shooting…

…as the impartial investigator, here’s what I’m not going to tell you.

 

By Rick Decker for Police1.com

Perhaps now more than ever, the investigation of an officer-involved shooting (OIS) demands an unbiased, impartial investigation. Gone are the days when agencies investigated themselves while offering “no comment” to the public and the media. Our communities demand and deserve better, and transparency is key to building and maintaining public trust.

Law enforcement will always have its naysayers despite what people see on bodycam footage or in publicly available investigative reports. Because I am a peace officer myself, there are those in the public who will assume I am biased in favor of the involved officer(s), regardless of what they see or read of my investigation, while the media gladly feeds into that because controversy generates revenue. Because of this context, it is imperative I maintain and demonstrate the impartiality of an OIS investigation, as well as in its final determination.

If you’re involved in an OIS, know that my job is to gather the facts and conduct an unbiased criminal investigation, the outcome of which will determine whether or not you keep your badge, and in some cases, your freedom.

It’s not my job to coach you, counsel you, prepare you for the interview, or even reassure you that everything will be OK. I’m not “on your side.” I can’t be, even if I want to be or you think I am because we both wear a badge. But I am still a police officer and I have been for 24 years. I’ve been involved in an OIS, witnessed another, been the union president and the peer counselor for involved officers, the press information officer for still others, and I have been the lead or an assisting investigator for more than a dozen.

While I’ve worn many different hats during and after an OIS, my current hat means I don’t get to choose sides. I’m an impartial finder of fact and those facts speak for themselves. To that end, my investigation serves to assist the elected district attorney in making their decision as to whether your actions were lawful, criminal, or somewhere in between.

But if I were on your side, even just for a moment, this is what I would tell you if you were involved in an OIS:

IT’S NOT A BOOKING PHOTO

We’re going to take your photograph from the front, back and sides. Maybe you’re a private person, you steer clear of all social media, and everyone knows full well you hate having your photo taken. I don’t care. I have to demonstrate you were clearly recognizable as a police officer, bravely preserving your oath to protect the public and found yourself under attack for that reason. I can’t do that without evidence of your appearance. Please don’t presume those photos are for any other reason. I only promise I won’t ask you to smile.

TIME TO GEAR DOWN

With rare exceptions, what just happened to you may have been the most terrifying moment of your life. Understandably your emotions are in overdrive so when I order some, if not all, of your gear to be taken as evidence, it’s going to get very real if it hasn’t already.

This moment is never easy for an involved officer as your “tools of the trade” are stripped away from you and dropped into evidence bags. But I have to do it.

Trace evidence anywhere on your belt may validate the statement you give later, be it blood, DNA, or fingerprints and I don’t know what is evidence until I interview everyone involved.

When you tell me the subject tried to take your gun, imagine the value of finding his or her DNA on your holster. Or when the bystander “witness” later tells me you overreacted and “must have fired 10 times,” I can expose their own bias when the three rounds missing from your magazine match the three casings on the ground.

I know it won’t be easy, but I’m taking your gear because I have to.

SUBJECT NOT SUSPECT

Remember, I am the impartial finder of fact. I don’t take sides or make assumptions. You are the “involved officer.” You are neither the victim nor the suspect. And the “involved subject” is just that, or maybe even the “decedent.” But he or she is never the suspect or the victim. Those terms imply bias, so don’t take offense when you don’t see them in my reports or hear them during your interview. It doesn’t mean you’re not the victim of a violent crime who was fighting for your life and forced to use deadly force so you could still go home to your family. The facts of my investigation may prove you worthy of that title, but an impartial investigation demands unbiased and fair language.

BODYCAM FOOTAGE: TO VIEW OR NOT TO VIEW AND WHEN?

This is such a polarizing topic, I almost chose to skip it. But here goes.

When you’re involved in an OIS, you have chosen to use deadly force based on a totality of the circumstances that led you to believe you or someone else was is in imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury and that belief will be judged through the eyes of a reasonable officer, without the benefit of hindsight.

When I interview you, I want to hear your mind’s eye account of what you remember WITHOUT the benefit of hindsight. I want to see and hear the emotions of you reliving the event, not because I want to see you suffer but because I want anyone who questions your actions or my investigation later to see and hear for themselves what you went through because it’s those raw emotions at the moment you feared for your life that may lawfully justify your actions. I also don’t want your statement clouded by what you’ve seen on the video versus what you remember, or me having to clarify what you truly remember versus what you saw on the video that you didn’t notice at the moment you thought you were going to die.

Take an extreme case such as a BB gun you reasonably believed was a handgun that now looks less authentic in HD video than it did when you pulled the trigger. Imagine the irreversible impact that could have on your statement as you now question your memory of every detail far more than you did before you viewed the video.

For our office, we conduct the initial interview and then take a break to allow the involved officer and their attorney to view the bodycam footage in private. Once that is done, we resume the interview and allow for clarifying questions. It doesn’t matter that the subject was farther away than you remember, or the knife was smaller than you thought. It’s about what you reasonably believed AT THAT MOMENT. 

Ultimately, when you view your bodycam footage is not up to me. It may be determined by you, your department policy, or your attorney, and I can’t stop you. But at least you know where I stand.

NOT ONE STEP

Prior to the interview, you will meet with your attorney to go over your statement. Never mind the association holiday parties, this is what your union dues pay for so make the most of it. Don’t take one step into that interview room until you’re ready, both mentally and physically. “I just want to get it over with,” is no reason to provide a statement when you’re tired, hungry, over-caffeinated, or unprepared. Your psyche may already be shaken by being the interviewee instead of the interviewer as I question you from the chair and side of the table where you normally sit. You won’t get a second chance to tell me your side of the story, and this may be one of the most crucial moments of your career.

Remember, this is a criminal investigation where your statement is admissible. This is not the internal investigation your department will conduct and essentially order you to provide a statement under threat of insubordination via the Lybarger admonishment. [1] Do yourself a favor and don’t walk in my interview room door until you’re ready.

IT FEELS LIKE AN INTERROGATION BECAUSE IT IS

I understand I may be asking you to talk about the most terrifying thing that has ever happened to you, and you’re entitled to the whirlwind of emotions that go with that. But I have to question you and sometimes I might even have to push you to get the answers and details my investigation demands.

Some of the questions might be hard to answer or sound unreasonable, or maybe even make you think I don’t believe you. Remember, my job is to be the impartial finder of fact, so give me the facts as you know them without reading into my questions. I want to believe you, I really do. But I can’t hold your hand through this or leave any impression I went easy on you because we’re both cops. I have to ask the tough questions, the same questions others may ask later when the investigation is public and I want that investigation to be bulletproof.

I’m not trying to make you feel like a criminal, but the reality is you may have just killed someone and “innocent until proven guilty” doesn’t apply to police officers nowadays. You’re a murderer unless I can prove otherwise, so stay calm, answer truthfully and let me do my job.

CHECK YOUR EGO AT THE DOOR

I get it. Maybe you brought with you more “life” experience or training to this job than others. Perhaps you were in the military and served in combat, or you lift weights four times a week. Maybe you’ve done martial arts for years or simply bring 20 years of hard-charging patrol experience to the table with the scuffs on your baton and boots to prove it.

While some of that may give context to your actions, nothing justifies your decision to pull the trigger the way genuine fear for your life does. Just say it. Don’t make me drag it out of you because you don’t want to appear weak to your colleagues, your family, or your command staff.  I need to see and hear it to determine the justification for your actions, and the public needs to see and hear it when the investigation is complete. Otherwise, they will never grasp the real danger in our job and the nature of these rapidly evolving situations.

If you can’t find the words, don’t expect me to lob you the softball of, “Did you shoot because you feared for your life?” That’s a leading question that doesn’t do you or my investigation any favors. Only you can recall your state of mind at that moment, and the description of that has to come from you.

I DON’T WANT YOU TO BE THE VILLAIN

Admittedly, we’re both cops who took the oath to protect and serve for likely the same reasons and the cop in me wants you to be right. I want you to be the hero in the story and not the villain. I want the people who’ll never dare walk a day in our boots to see and feel what this job is really like and what it demands of us mentally, emotionally and physically. I want them to see it’s nothing like what they see in the movies or hear on CNN.  

Our chosen profession has taken too many blows these last few years, and I don’t want your OIS to be another one. I want what happened to you to demonstrate the courage it takes to protect the public and put our life on the line every day, every shift. But I have little control over whether or not any of that actually happens. I am an unrelenting, unbiased finder of fact and what’s done is done once my job starts. The public demands and deserves a transparent investigation that is completed without prejudice. As a cop, I truly hope you come out of this OK and keep that badge on your chest. But remember…I’m not on your side.

 

REFERENCE

1. Lybarger v. City of Los Angeles (1985) 40 Cal.3d 822, 710 P.2d 329, 221 Cal.Rptr. 529.


About the author

Rick Decker has been a sworn peace officer in California for 24 years, with more than half of that time spent as an investigator and he is currently a supervising inspector in the San Francisco Bay Area for the District Attorney’s Office’s OIS Investigation Team. He is a proud husband, father and brother, and he is the author of three published children’s books who prefers being armed with a fishing rod rather than a firearm as much as possible.

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Foot Pursuits: A Special Calibre Press Series

 

In the bestselling Calibre Press textbook, Tactics for Criminal Patrol, author and Calibre co-founder Chuck Remsberg shares some crucial, potentially lifesaving insights into considerations officers must heed prior to engaging in a foot pursuit. In the context of the book, these pursuits are generally launched after a traffic stop that likely involves illegal contraband, but the tips shared are directly relevant to all foot pursuit scenarios.

Part 1: Before racing after a suspect who takes off on foot, here are 6 officer survival considerations to take into account:

— Who is the suspect?

Is he someone you’ve already patted down, or is the weaponry he might be packing unknown?

Does he have a known violent background that suggests he could attack, given the opportunity?

Is he the driver of the vehicle, probably the person you’re most interested in on a contraband stop, or a passenger who does not have authority over the vehicle?

Do you know who he is, where he lives, and where you can likely find him again if he gets away now?

— Who are you?

Are you wearing your vest?

Are you overweight, out of shape, near retirement and susceptible to a heart attack from a chase and possible scuffle afterwards? If you catch the suspect, can you handle him physically, when you’re likely to be out of breath and fatigued?

Can you use your firearm after sustained exertion? If you don’t know, try this on the range: Sprint for just 30 seconds, then shoot; notice the effect on your accuracy.

— What help is available?

If you don’t have backup, can you radio for other officers in the vicinity to intercept the pursuit or block off the area so the suspect is contained?

Do you have at least verbal communication with other officers involved in the chase? Taking on a sustained foot pursuit all by yourself is extremely dangerous.

This is not an athletic contest but an effort to seize an actively resisting subject who apparently is involved in something serious enough to convince him to refuse to submit to your authority and your commands to stop. This resistance frequently escalates to a violent physical confrontation at the end of the pursuit, when you may need the help of other officers.

Also consider what help might be available to the suspect, especially if he leads you into his home turf.

— When is the pursuit taking place?

Is it at night when your visibility is limited, or near the end of your shift when you’re already dead tired?

Is it in cold weather when ice may create a running hazard, or in summer when blazing heat may cause sudden exertion problems?

— Where is it taking place?

Some officers feel the most important element of a successful pursuit is knowing the territory. Do you know the area as well as the suspect is likely to, or are you running “blind,” essentially ignorant about possible hazards, where he might end up, shortcuts, opportunities to circle back to your patrol car, etc.?

Does the path of flight allow you to maintain visible contact with the suspect, if not continually at least sufficiently to prevent ambush (If you lose him, you’re really no longer in a pursuit; you’re into a search.)

Is the location inherently dangerous—like thick woods or a housing project—with numerous hiding places and numerous vantage points for surprise attack? Is traffic a threat to you?

— Are the risks worth it?

If the bottom line is “No,” don’t pursue. This should definitely be your conclusion if you know in advance that the fleeing suspect is armed with a gun. If that becomes known during the pursuit, call it off, unless you can proceed with adequate cover.

Part 2: In this second installment, we’re sharing tips for improving your running technique so you increase your odds of catching the suspect and more officer safety tips to remember if you do decide to chase:

— Off-duty, develop your pursuit style, learning to run with your body relaxed and efficient.

— Run with the ground surface, not against it. That is, try to minimize your vertical bobbing up and down to reduce muscular/skeletal shock and energy drain.

— If you have a choice on your department, wear duty shoes that will facilitate speed, traction and endurance. Avoid footgear like cowboy boots. Can you comfortably and safely run 100 yards in your current footwear?

— When chasing an offender, run at a pace that will leave you a reserve of energy should you need to confront him.

— If a suspect stops running, maintain a control distance that will allow you to disengage from a physical encounter or escalate to a higher level of force if he aggressively resists you.

— Don’t automatically start running. Sometimes you can go just about any place a suspect can go in your patrol vehicle. Chase him with it as far as you can to conserve your energy. When you reach a place you can’t go, evaluate whether bailing out and running after him makes sense. Remember, you will have to secure your squad if you go so no one (including the fleeing suspect) can access your equipment or steal your vehicle.

— Don’t abandon unsecured suspects or run past an uncleared suspect vehicle from which an armed occupant could ambush you. Remember, the person you’re chasing may not be your greatest threat. An Oregon officer stopped a car with four occupants after they left a drug-sale location. The driver ran, the officer chased him. They scuffled briefly, but the officer subdued and cuffed him. This suspect was unarmed. But among the three occupants left behind (two of whom were females) were a revolver and a Marine Corps Ka-Bar combat knife. The male passenger ran after the officer, intending to help the driver. He showed up—with the Ka-Bar knife in hand—just as the officer completed cuffing. The officer drew down on him and controlled him. But if he’d arrived seconds sooner while the officer was still struggling with the driver, the story could have had a different ending.

— Sprint briefly, then follow, don’t chase. If you can’t catch the suspect with a quick dash that lasts no more than about 20 seconds, ease off and pace yourself. Try to keep him in sight and track where he’s going, but don’t exhaust yourself so that you’re physically vulnerable if you do catch him. Adjust your speed to your advantage. One option is the “pace and charge” technique. While the suspect is running as fast as he can, you run at more of a jogging pace, about 60 to 80% of your maximum effort. Try to stay close enough to keep him in sight but with enough separation (about 15 yards or so) to create a protective buffer. As he begins to tire and slow down, you accelerate and overtake him. When he sees you gaining on him, this will often produce a surrender.

— As you run, scan. Look up and back from where you are to where the suspect is (and beyond), as well as scanning from side to side, just as you do in a vehicle pursuit. You’re breaking your tunnel vision on him to watch for “road” hazards, possible ambush spots or other threats that may blindside you otherwise. In a vehicle pursuit, it’s important not to drive so fast that you “outrun your headlights” and are on a hazard before you can do anything to avoid it. The same holds true in controlling yourself in a foot pursuit.

— Keep your sidearm controlled. Don’t run with it in your hand; the risk of unintentional discharge or disarming is too high. Don’t try to shoot while you’re running; the risk of wild shots and unintentional hits is too high. Especially avoid firing warning shots; they are usually worthless and dangerous and create a severe legal liability for you. Be sure when your gun is in your holster that it is secure. Unbelievable as it seems, guns have bounced out of holsters during foot pursuits and officers haven’t realized it until they’ve tried to draw—and grabbed empty air. In practice sessions, try running with all of your normal duty gear and see what happens to your equipment. Do you lose anything? This may affect your future decisions about chasing.

— Don’t split your forces. If a partner is with you and there are multiple runners, both of you stay together even if the suspects split in different directions. Pick your best target and stick with him. It’s worth others getting away if you can safely capture one.

— Use caution rounding corners and try to move from cover to cover as you run. Take time not to rush past or around corners and solid objects where the suspect may be hiding or run out in the open where he can spin and pop you. Scan ahead so you anticipate corners. Approaching them, either quick-peek around them…“slice the pie”  as you would on a building search to gradually expose what’s on the other side…or at the very least swing wide to “round the corner off” so you create distance from an area of unknown hazard. This will no doubt slow you down some, but a less cautious approach can slow you down all the way…permanently.

— Watch for movement toward common weapon areas. A suspect’s hands are just as dangerous when he’s in flight as any other time. As you run, keep asking yourself: Where is the nearest cover right now? How am I going to respond if he moves toward a weapon area right now?

Part 3: Anticipating a suspect’s flight pattern, navigating your final approach, being psychologically prepared for a deadly force encounter and more, the last installment of a three-part series on foot pursuits taken from Calibre Press’s bestselling textbook, Tactics for Criminal Patrol.

Don’t hypnotically follow the suspect’s exact path of flight. This behavioral form of tunnel vision makes you dangerously predictable. Plus, you may not want to go where he goes.

Anticipate the suspect’s flight pattern. To some extent, you can predict where he’ll run, and this can be an important survival and tracking consideration if you lose sight of him. One Canadian study concludes that:

— Suspects fleeing from a scene may first turn left but after that will tend to turn right whenever they have to turn, avoiding left turns if at all possible. Apparently this relates to the part of the human brain that becomes dominate under stress.

— If they are forced to turn left by natural barriers or police containment, they become frustrated or confused. They generally will make no more than two left turns before they panic and hide.

— Running down a street or alley, the vast majority will run along the right side.

— Evidence will usually be tossed away to the right.

— If they have a choice of where to hide, they favor the right side.

— If two suspects are running and one hides, the second will usually hide within 200 feet of the first; both will hide sooner than a subject fleeing alone.

— If one of two fleeing suspects is captured, the other will tend to circle to the right within a 200-foot radius and come back to the scene to scope things out, so long as the prisoner is kept in the vicinity. The sergeant who documented these patterns sometimes uses this last tendency as a means of bagging the companion who remains at large. At night, he places the handcuffed first suspect on the hood of his patrol car, plays a spotlight on him, and uses him as a visible magnet to draw the second offender into the area, where he can then be taken by surprise.

Use extreme caution in your final approach. If you’re running full speed and closing in on the suspect, he can suddenly stop and attack before you can slow down. Your forward momentum may propel you right into him and his weapon. Trying to tackle him may end up in a wrestling match—and result in your disarming.

If you use the pace-and-charge technique (mentioned in Part 2 of this series), slow down before you actually reach the suspect and approach in a balanced and controlled manner, ready to apply any necessary defense and/or arrest control techniques. You’re safest to draw your firearm and just stabilize the scene at a comfortable distance, avoiding a final approach until: backup is present…the suspect is physically unable to resist…or you are convinced he is fully submissive. Remember, with many foot pursuits, when a chase ends a fight begins.

Be psychologically prepared for a deadly force encounter. Unpredictability is often a core ingredient of foot pursuits. Changes in the status can take place at head-spinning speed. Consider: A sheriff’s deputy discovered an ounce of crack hidden in the spare-tire compartment of a car he’d stopped for as traffic violation in Alabama. The driver seemed compliant, but the passenger rabbited.

In a matter of minutes, the fleeing suspect: tried unsuccessfully to get into several unoccupied cars he approached in traffic…dived through the window of a Monte Carlo…jumped out when police made contact with that car…ran into a busy grocery store…grabbed a large knife off a butcher’s table…rang through swinging doors into the back of the store and into a refrigerated storage area…confronted the original deputy who’d come after him…threatened to kill himself while the deputy tried to persuade him to drop the knife and surrender peacefully…sprayed stainless-steel cleaner into his mouth…suddenly lunged toward the deputy in a threatening manner…was shot and mortally wounded.

Through all this, the deputy not only pursued the fleeing suspect successfully but maintained the necessary mental acuity and physical firearms control to protect himself and others in a fast-changing scenario.

Even when a foot-pursuit suspect is seized, don’t assume your danger is over. A rookie trooper in Connecticut pursued a Chevy Camaro that he was trying to stop one afternoon for passing illegally. The driver screeched to a halt near a wooded area and ran from the car, leaving behind a briefcase with thousands of dollars in cash, a quantity of cocaine, and a handgun. The rookie ran after him, caught him and had one handcuff applied when the suspect whipped out a hidden .25-cal. pistol and shot the trooper in the forehead.

More to add on foot pursuits? E-mail us at: editor@calibrepress.com

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Justice Department Announces Funding to Advance Community Policing and Collaborative Reform Initiative

The U.S. Department of Justice has announced the availability of approximately $40 million in funding in Community Policing Development (CPD) grants and roughly $5 million for the Collaborative Reform Initiative. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland first announced the expansion of technical assistance services offered to law enforcement agencies through the Collaborative Reform Initiative in March 2022.

The Community Oriented Policing Services’ (COPS Office) CPD funds are used to help law enforcement implement community policing through the development and testing of innovative strategies; building knowledge about effective practices and outcomes; and supporting creative approaches to preventing crime and promoting safe communities. The Collaborative Reform Initiative offers a range of intermediary and intensive forms of technical assistance, including targeted assistance following a critical incident, issue-specific reviews and analysis, and in-depth assessments on systemic issues that damage community trust and confidence. Each level of the initiative’s assistance is voluntary and provided at the request of law enforcement agencies.

“Nothing is more important than keeping our communities safe,” said Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta. “Each day, approximately half a million people throughout the United States call 911 for help and there are hundreds of thousands more daily interactions between law enforcement and members of the communities they serve. The funding we are announcing today is critical to the department’s commitment to public safety and best practices in community policing.”

Highlights of the 2022 CPD funding include:

  • Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT). Up to $10 million will support crisis intervention teams.

  • De-escalation Training. Up to $15 million will support national level de-escalation training for officers through a network of regional centers.

  • Accreditation. Up to $8 million to expand state accreditation programs and assist agencies with gaining accreditation will ensure compliance with state and national standards, covering all aspects of law enforcement policies, procedures and practices.

  • COPS Microgrants. Up to $5 million will support local agencies’ demonstration or pilot projects, known as COPS Microgrants. These projects offer creative ideas to advance crime fighting, community engagement, problem solving or organizational changes to support community policing.

  • Tolerance, Diversity and Anti-Bias Training. Up to $2 million will support the delivery of tolerance, diversity and anti-bias training for law enforcement officers.

The Collaborative Reform Initiative continuum includes:

  • A continuation of the Collaborative Reform Initiative Technical Assistance Center (CRI-TAC). Established in 2017, CRI-TAC provides a wide range of targeted technical assistance services and involves a coalition of support and expertise from ten leading law enforcement stakeholder organizations. Through CRI-TAC’s “by the field, for the field” approach, the department facilitates customizable, short-term technical assistance on more than 60 topics. Last year, CRI-TAC worked with over 170 law enforcement agencies. The new initiative will maintain CRI-TAC as its first level of support.

  • An updated Critical Response. A law enforcement agency experiencing a high-profile event or other special circumstance will be able to reach out to the COPS Office for needed technical assistance. Like CRI-TAC, this program is also customizable and provides flexible assistance to law enforcement agencies in a variety of ways. Once an agency connects with the Department of Justice, tools will be in place to offer support ranging from after-action reviews, to peer-to-peer exchanges, to data analysis and recommendations, to facilitating discussions with experts. The initiative will maintain the Critical Response program as its second level of support.

  • An updated Organizational Assessments. This program will offer the most intensive form of support, involving in-depth assessments on systemic issues. Under the new initiative, areas for reform will be addressed with timely, ongoing and actionable guidance. Participating agencies will be provided with the technical assistance they need to accomplish reforms as they are identified. This program is a voluntary opportunity for an agency that knows it needs to make changes and wants to make changes. The department will prioritize offering this third level of support to agencies that have a clear desire to engage with the model and advance community policing.

The CPD solicitation will close on June 23, 2022, and the Collaborative Reform solicitation will close on July 8, 2022. Additional information can be found on the COPS website at https://cops.usdoj.gov/grants.

The COPS Office is the federal component of the Department of Justice responsible for advancing community policing nationwide. The only Department of Justice agency with policing in its name, the COPS Office was established in 1994 and has been the cornerstone of the nation’s crime fighting strategy with grants, a variety of knowledge resource products, and training and technical assistance. Through the years, the COPS Office has become the go-to agency for law enforcement agencies across the country and continues to listen to the field and provide the resources that are needed to reduce crime and build trust between law enforcement and the communities served. The COPS Office has invested more than $14 billion to advance community policing, including grants awarded to more than 13,000 state, local and Tribal law enforcement agencies to fund the hiring and redeployment of more than 135,000 officers.

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Train Your Brain for Optimum Performance

By Barbara A. Schwartz  |  Calibre Press

Elite athletes train their brains for maximized performance under pressure. Officers need to incorporate similar training to optimize their cognitive performance in life and death situations.

Jim Leo, founder of Pit Fit training in Indianapolis, explains, “We train race car drivers to process sensory inputs, identify and interpret information, make a decision, act on it, and it has to happen very quick.”

Sounds like the OODA loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act).

Leo designed his “neurocognitive training” to stimulate the brain’s neurological pathways. His goal is to improve drivers’ ability to make split-second decisions in a race car traveling 220 miles per hour while moving hands and feet, trying to read and comprehend displays, making steering wheel inputs, and dealing with: an elevated heart rate, an activated fight or flight nervous system, and extreme environmental conditions like heat and humidity.

Sounds like an officer’s working conditions.

To improve drivers’ reaction time, visual clarity, multiple object tracking, perception scan, eye/hand coordination, focus, and sensory-motor functions, Jim Leo uses high-tech equipment demonstrated in this video: Watch

For race car drivers, visual acuity is essential in making decisions on the track. Same for police officers who have to make shoot/don’t shoot decisions in seconds and in low light level conditions. Leo uses sophisticated technology for visual training shown in this video: Watch

Police officers won’t have access to the expensive equipment Leo uses to train Indycar drivers or that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson has in his basement, but there are similar drills you can create at home with your kids, spouses, or other cops that will train your brain for peak performance under pressure.

For example: Hang a bed sheet or tablecloth on a clothesline, swing set, from rafters in your garage, or along your open garage door. Stand on one side of the sheet and have someone, like your kid, stand on the other side where you can’t see them. Have them poke your baton into the sheet at random points and heights. Then you push the baton back. Repeat.

Be creative with your flashlight. Cats love to chase a laser pointer. Let your kids do the same for you.

Leo instructs drivers to practice refocusing the convergence muscles in the eye by identifying an object at 10-, 30-, and 50-foot distances, and quickly switching back and forth between the objects. Front and peripheral vision can be exercised with ball drills. Concentrate on an object in front of you while the thrower moves around you and try to catch the ball.

Jim Leo states that our senses get more acute when limited. He has drivers train and make decisions with a strobe light flashing giving only glimpses of images. Many duty lights have a strobe setting you can train with including at the gun range.

“Don’t get stuck in one routine,” Leo advises officers. “To be at the top of your game you have to expose yourself to different obstacles that force you to formulate plans and overcome those obstacles.”

The brain needs new stimuli to keep growing new neuropathways. Leo advocates that officers learn to play a new musical instrument. Race car drivers are especially attracted to the drums.

Leo points out that for most sports a bad decision or mistake can result in losing a game. For officers, military, or race car drivers poor decision-making can result in death or catastrophic injury. “Repetitive, quick reactions that are life and death have longterm ramifications on the nervous system,” Leo added.

He calls this “decision fatigue” which impairs a person’s ability to make quick decisions under stress. Exposure to horrific incidents and the worst of human nature complicates decision fatigue for officers.

Decision-making skills suffer under extreme stress because the brain’s prefrontal cortex gets taken offline during sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) activation. The goal of training your brain is to keep the prefrontal cortex engaged and functioning in pressure-filled situations.

Nick Davenport, founder of MindBody1, trains drivers, mixed martial arts fighters, olympians, military, and law enforcement officers. His insight into what officers face on the streets comes from idolizing his father who retired after thirty years as a Florida police officer.

Davenport calls himself “Mr. Mental Muscle” and says the brain is a muscle that needs to be trained and exercised. He emphasizes that the brain is wired for sensory input and 80% of that comes from vision.

He has created drills officers can perform with items found around the house. The goal is to give your brain a decision to make and execute that decision with a body movement. Timing the exercise adds stress to the drill.

1) Separate a deck of cards into two equal face down piles. Simultaneously, flip the top card on each pile. Place the higher card to the left and the lower card to the right of the original piles until you have gone through all the cards. Time yourself. Try to beat 13 seconds consistently.

The following Stroop exercises require you to visit links to complete the exercises.

2) Time how long it takes you to read aloud from left to right the color of the ink and not the word. Ignore reading the written word. Only respond by the color of the ink. Time yourself and repeat to improve your time. This challenges the region of the brain associated with impulse control and pain/fatigue perception. Davenport says those who do well on this task have better self-control and discipline.

Stroop reading exercise A: Watch

Stroop reading exercise B: Watch

3) In this dynamic Stroop exercise instead of saying the color of the ink aloud the participant moves to a cone or object (labeled red, yellow, green or blue.) Use colored construction paper, color paper plates with markers, or kid’s sidewalk chalk to draw colored circles on your driveway or patio. The dynamic movement adds another level of stress and focus as well as physical fatigue. Time the exercise and keep trying to beat your time. Video example: Watch

Use this link and your phone for the visual stimulus for the exercise.

4) Place paper cutouts of circles, triangles, rectangles, and squares in different colors on a floor. Have your kid/spouse/friend call out a shape and color. Run to and step on that color or shape. Variation is to affix the shapes to a wall, call out the shape, and throw a ball to the correct shape.

To make the exercise more stressful, Davenport suggests the helper call out an arithmetic equation such at 5X3 or 42+80. If the answer is an even number step on a red rectangle, if the answer is an odd number, step on a yellow triangle, etc. Change the parameters to increase the skill level: if the equation is subtraction and the answer is an even number, step on a red circle, etc. Or, correlate the color to a number: red is five and blue is three. Call out red plus blue or red times blue.

Next time you are at the range, record the sound of gunfire, then play the recording while you perform the exercises. This will train your vision to stay focused and your brain to maintain executive functioning while dealing with the audio distraction of a life-threatening sound.

Davenport maintains an Instagram site where he posts exercises including tactical shooting drills.

Put down your golf clubs and try a different sport that emphasizes eye/hand coordination and body movement such as racquetball, handball, pickle ball, or tennis.

Use these exercises as a foundation to create your own. Keep in mind that the goal is using your vision to give your brain decisions to be carried out by body movement. The more complex you can make the decision-making process the better (i.e., adding solving math equations).

In these times, when every action an officer takes is scrutinized in the media, you must train your brain for making life and death decisions under extreme stress conditions.

If you come up with a creative training drill of your own, please share it with us at: editor@calibrepress.com.

About the Author

Barbara A. Schwartz has dedicated her life to supporting the brave officers of law enforcement. In her younger days, she served as a volunteer for Indycar’s predecessor Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART.) She trained as a race car engineer with the PacWest and A.J. Foyt teams.

Certified as a first responder peer supporter by the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation (ICISF) and the Law Enforcement Alliance for Peer Support (LEAPS), she specializes in trauma-induced grief, injured officer support, suicide prevention, and traumatic event reactions.

She maintains memberships in the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA) and the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA).

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The Importance of Mentoring in Law Enforcement

Mentoring can be one of the most valuable professional relationships we experience

 

Many organizations have formal or informal mentoring programs that help new people succeed. But what about after that? Is that when mentoring stops?

Hopefully not.

In this tip, risk management expert and Lexipol co-founder Gordon Graham discusses how mentoring can be a great way to supplement basic training.

Get more tips from Gordon here.

 

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Defensive Tactics Training: The Sankyo Technique

Becoming proficient at the lost art of empty hand control is within your grasp if you have patience and commitment.


 

Story by Lt. Dan Marcou Blue Knights for Police1.com

 

Having been an active street cop for the entire 33 years of my police career, as well as an active police trainer for 43 years, in this series I share some of the defensive tactics techniques that helped me prevail on the street. The series presents a variety of defensive tactics in a format that allows you to follow the instructions and practice the technique. Remember practice makes prepared.

Sankyo is an Aikido technique that is extremely effective and applicable for controlling resistant subjects. However, it requires a deep commitment to training in the technique before attempting to overcome resistance on the street.

For me, that meant I practiced it for years before I felt I owned it. Once the technique was mine and its many applications understood and mastered, it became one of the most powerful tools in my toolbox. I used it when I found myself making an arrest of a resistant suspect in the presence of a crowd that had either the potential to turn into friend or foe.

The times I used it in front of such a crowd, it not only controlled the suspect without injury but the crowd was so fascinated by the technique that they did not turn on me. Sankyo never failed to turn a crowd from, “Get your f—-ing hands off him!” to, “Wow! That was cool.” Sometimes they even applauded.

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Why the Little Things are BIG in Corrections

When it comes to communicating with inmates, officers and administrators should always pay attention to the small issues.

By Craig Gottschalk for Corrections1.com

Most people are trained and experienced in dealing with the “big” issues impacting their lives and careers, while their acumen or capacity to address the “little” things seem quite challenged. This is never more evident than in the world of corrections. Whether at the administrative level or during the day-to-day actions of corrections officers on the floor, the “little” things tend to trip up officers and administrators the most.

When it comes to communicating with inmates, officers and administrators should always pay attention to the small issues.

Here are three rules to follow:

Never indicate to an inmate you will do something but not follow through.
Never indicate to an inmate you will do something but not follow through. (Photo/Corrections1)

1. NEVER INDICATE YOU WILL DO SOMETHING BUT NOT FOLLOW THROUGH

This could be as simple as saying you will get an inmate a bar of soap and doing it. Never force an inmate to repeatedly ask the next two shifts to complete a task you had “promised” to fulfill. If you say you will do something, the inmate perceives this as a contract you will personally follow up on. To not do so can create animosity that may never be overcome.

2. NEVER IGNORE THE MINOR VIOLATIONS

Do not look past the little things, or minor violations that can occur in hopes they will go away, or to avoid irritating inmates when an issue is addressed. Make inmates aware when you have identified a minor violation so they know it is not being ignored. Every officer has a broad latitude of options to address violations that occur, and the officer’s response will either demonstrate a level of professionalism that will be respected or incompetence that will be ridiculed forever. Avoid the “it’s nothing really bad – just inmates being inmates” mentality.

3. DOCUMENT EVEN THE LITTLEST OF THINGS

Always take the time to document inmate behaviors or actions that violate the inmate handbook and how the behavior was addressed. Officers hear all the time, “If it is not documented, it did not occur.” This is true with the larger violations and should be the same with minor inmate disciplinary actions and responses.  

Rarely will an officer’s response and warnings to minor violations or the little issues that occur create an escalated or physical inmate attack. The officer will though need to bear the weight and agitated or aggressive verbal responses from inmates airing their displeasure of an officer holding high expectations for inmate behavior.

Inmates will try to place a wedge between officers addressing the little things by saying “no one else does that” or “don’t be such a hardass” (or more disrespectful expletives). They may dial up their manipulative tactics by claiming they will grieve the officer’s actions or discipline. Administrators must ensure their officers trust the grievance process to protect and support their actions.

There may even be feigned attack approaches and aggressive posturing to save face among fellow inmates. This is the dance that officers must learn to analyze and respond to daily. An officer’s ability to “read” these observations and develop an understanding of the individual inmates’ personalities and then balance that with the unit or pod dynamics to maintain control and security in a unit is paramount. 

Officers and administrators must throttle back responding physically and outwardly toward inmates behaving badly. Stepping back and quickly analyzing what truly is occurring and the risks present and then formulating the immediate response and how to package it for presentation to inmates is an art. Each inmate may require a unique strategy to de-escalate and address the misbehavior.

I cannot overemphasize the value humor and sarcasm can play in a corrections setting. Officers who can address inmate attitudes and misbehavior with a light heart and obvious sarcasm will educate and mold inmate behaviors quicker and with more long-term effects than oral tirades and immediate application of restraint responses. The resulting inmate population’s respect for and appreciation of that officer’s uniform, presence and authority will increase.    

I encourage all officers and administrators to look inwardly and assess our “go to” responses to challenging inmate behaviors and rule violations. Determine if you look past the little things and only respond once violations have attained a certain level – or if you address what you observe each time – in order to create an understanding of the behavioral expectations each inmate should adhere to and expect to be held to.

Consistency is the dream. Inmates crave it throughout their days in our facilities. Let’s ensure we meet their expectations. If so, the behavior will generally follow the expectations presented.  

 A senior officer once told me, during my first weeks of training as a CO, “Focus on the little – respond to the large.” No truer guidance have I ever heard.

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Interrogation Tactics to Snag Porch Pirates

In 2020, Amazon Logistics delivered 4.2 billion parcel shipments, up from 1.9 billion in 2019. An estimated 210 million packages were stolen from Americans’ homes over the past 12 months in the U.S. – follow these steps to snag a porch pirate’s confession.

Story by Louis C. Senese, Interrogation Themes for Police1.com

This article is not business as usual like my typical interviewing and interrogation articles – it’s personal!

Sad to say, I was recently a victim of porch pirates. I had three packages on my home’s porch overnight and two individuals, one the driver and the other in the back seat, jumped out at 3 a.m., ran to my door and, for some reason, only took two of the packages, leaving a wrapped fishing pole. They got a fishing reel and tarp. They were caught on video, but too well disguised to identify.

These bandits are not swashbucklers. They are pathetic cowards operating as opportunists pilfering residents’ entryways of their packages.

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Active Shooter: Coming to a Theater Near You? Advice From the Front Line

By Scott Buhrmaster | Calibre Press

The mass shooting at the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, CO in 2012 stands as one of the most murderous events in recent memory. 12 people were killed and 70 were injured after tactically clad active shooter James Holmes opened fire on terrified theatergoers during a midnight screening of the Batman movie The Dark Knight Rises.

The incident was not only deadly, it was also tactically eye-opening. As law enforcement, EMS and fire responded to the theater, unexpected issues surfaced that every first response agency can learn from.

As part of this year’s Calibre Press-sponsored Patrol Tactics Conference, Aurora PD Commander Jad Lanigan and former Aurora SWAT Commander Mike Dailey—both key players in leading the response to this incident—shared the insider insights they’re now cleared to discuss. Their experiences and advice can help you and your partner first-response agencies be better prepared to navigate a crisis like this.

Here are a few areas of consideration they focused on:

Sound. Throughout the incident, the Batman movie kept running which added to the chaos. The high volume of the theatre sound system on top of the sounds of gunfire, fire alarms going off and terrified people screaming compounded the cacophony and contributed to overall confusion and sensory overload for both victims and first responders. On one of the 911 tapes, a terrified theatergoer yells through the phone, “You need to stop the movie!!!”

As would be expected, when the gunfire erupted, theater workers fled leaving no one to power down the sound/projection system.

When you’re planning for active shooter event response, consider what large venues might be targeted and what issues like this might surface. If there are theaters in your community, would you know how to access the control rooms? Do you know where the stereo controls are in your local nightclubs? How about the lighting controls? Think about the lighting nightmare officers and escaping theatergoers needed to navigate in that dark theater with a movie flashing.

Consider every possible factor that could make your job more difficult and intensify victims’ panic and determine ahead of time how you might control them. Take the time to check out locations like this and have a plan for quickly controlling the atmosphere as best you can in a crisis.

Gas. During his attack, Holmes deployed OC canisters in the theater which required officers to don gas masks which further reduced their visibility in the smokey, low-light situation. During their presentation, Jad and Mike noted that OC and smoke are becoming increasingly common tools to use against police.

During active threat training (as well as protest management etc.) be sure you’re training for reality. Use theatrical smoke and force officers to navigate chaotic situations while wearing gas masks. Being prepared to deal with the sensory oddities that come with wearing a mask can make a critical difference to the safety and success of your response.

And speaking of gas masks…where is yours? When’s the last time you practiced with it? It needs to be in your car, and you need to be ready to use it. “Gas can happen at any time,” Jad cautioned. Be prepared.

Command decisions. At the time of the incident, Mike was Aurora PD’s SWAT Commander. Prior to his arrival at the scene, Jad controlled incident command but Aurora’s departmental policy dictated that when the SWAT Commander arrives on scene, incident command is immediately transferred to that individual.

In this instance, Mike made a decision to have Jad remain in his command role in the interest of preserving leadership consistency and avoiding even the slightest tweak to the responding officers’ focus. “Jad was doing an excellent job and I didn’t want to distract our guys by suddenly adding a new voice to the mix,” said Mike. “There was no need. I’ve always felt it’s a bad idea to change horses in mid-stream if you don’t need to.”

Dispatchers. A couple of valuable lessons were learned regarding dispatchers’ roles in active threat response. The first dealt with threat recognition.

During their presentation, Jad and Mike played audio of one of the first 911 calls to hit the dispatch center. As the exasperated caller tries to explain what is happening you can clearly hear gunfire in the background.

32 rounds were fired during that call, which would be an immediate tip-off that a mass shooting was in progress…to those who recognize the sound of gunfire. Problem is, over the phone that dispatcher didn’t recognize those sounds as rounds being fired and the caller couldn’t be heard clearly enough to understand what she was calling to report.

Jad and Mike suggested that in an effort to ensure that your dispatchers can recognize the sound of gunfire over the phone, go to the range, call them and fire rounds in the background so they can hear what that sounds like. Do not assume everyone knows what gunfire sounds like, particularly over the phone.

The second lesson had to do with unintentionally asking leading questions. In another clip of 911 audio, a caller tells the dispatcher someone is shooting in the theater. That dispatcher can then be heard asking, “Where are they? Where did they go?” The caller then responds something to the effect of, “They’re at the exit door!”

By saying “they” the dispatcher unwittingly caused the caller to parrot her reference to multiple attackers. There was only one, but responding officers were now going to hear “they” and assume there were multiple attackers. Although you should always assume there are more than one attacker until it’s proven otherwise, ideally every piece of information that is relayed by dispatch is as accurate as possible. If the caller had been asked, “How many people are shooting?” or asked, “Tell me exactly what’s happening,” the inaccurate reference to multiple shooters may have been avoided.

Train realistically in every way. The officers who responded to this shooting were immediately blasted with an extraordinary amount of stress and forced to navigate hordes of panicked people—many who were in pain—while trying to locate the suspect. Jad and Mike shared that these officers had to cast aside terrified people who literally grabbed on to them and desperately pleaded for protection…including children (think back to the Sandy Hook grade school tragedy.) They had to step over bodies. They had to overlook the injured while trying to locate and engage the threat. The emotional stress of this on officers was incredible but unavoidable.

In an effort to be best prepared to deal with this kind of experience, Jad and Mike recommend adding elements to your training like people grabbing on to your responding officers and pleading for their lives, injured people screaming in pain and begging for you to help them, child victims, etc.

Imagine the most emotionally challenging scenarios you can conjure up and train for them.

Know what it looks like—and what to do—when an officer is mentally overloading. It goes without saying the stress of this attack pushed officers to their mental and emotional limits. At one point, Jad recalled looking over at an officer who was what he called “a rock star” and noticing the officer’s eyes and face looked different. “That officer was checking out,” he said. The officer was sliding into emotional overload.

Be prepared to recognize what that looks like and have a plan for how you’re going to handle it. How are you going to ensure that the officer is safe and, if at all possible, helped back from the brink so they can continue to meet their professional responsibilities?

Another heartbreaking recollection Jad shared involved an officer who came upon the lifeless body of 6-year-old Veronica Mosher-Sullivan, the youngest of Holmes’ victims. Given the circumstances of the still uncontrolled situation, officers were forced to stay focused on locating the threat while delaying their ability to help the injured and tend to the dead.

This officer, however, simply couldn’t step over the body of this child. He picked her up and completely broke down. “He was completely gone,” Jad said. “Sobbing uncontrollably.”

Although deeply empathetic with this officer, Jad knew he needed to get that officer dialed back in, as painful as that would be. Jad’s response was to firmly order the officer to deliver this young girl to nearby EMS personnel and return to the scene.

“I can’t,” he sobbed. “I just don’t know what to do.” Devastating.

However, that officer was needed, so Jad increased the level of intensity of his demand that the officer relinquish Veronica to EMS and return to the mission of ending the threat and securing this scene. This time it worked. The officer mentally returned to duty.

When you’re discussing and planning for active threat response be sure to advise your officers that in the most severe cases, emotional breakdowns may happen. Cops are human. We all know that. The key is to quickly recognize when an officer is reaching, or has reached, his or her limit and be prepared to handle that.

Communication, communication, communication. James Holmes was in custody less than 10 minutes after the shooting started but dispatch and most officers didn’t know that. Not surprisingly, radio traffic was extremely heavy and that crucial transmission from the arresting officers was buried in the noise. When you’re training for active threat response, have a plan for making sure all critical announcements are heard.

Along those lines, both Jad and Mike strongly recommend wearing form-fitting radio earpieces that facilitate your ability to hear transmissions in high-volume situations. Relying on your ability to hear a radio strapped to your lapel is not a wise idea in their experienced opinion.

Working well with the others. Interoperability between fire, EMS and police proved to be lacking in this incident, Jad and Mike explained. Several serious issues surfaced that proved extremely challenging at the scene and caused considerable contention during post-event debriefing.

Among them were extended staging distances from the scene for fire and EMS, hesitation to share equipment, clashes and decision-making delays between the different departmental command structures and an inability/unwillingness for non-command level personnel to make spontaneous, discretionary decisions that impacted the handling of the injured.

Be sure your police, fire and EMS agencies are meeting regularly to discuss exactly how things will be handled in a crisis situation like this.

Consider things like:

Staging: How close to the scene are fire and EMS willing to come if police tell them it is safe and necessary for them to move in? Will they be so far away, transporting the injured to them will prove unnecessarily difficult?

Equipment: One problem in Aurora involved an officer who approached EMS and asked for a backboard so he could deal with one of the injured. EMS initially refused citing their need to always have their equipment in their possession and fully accounted for.

Command structure and decision-making: Jad and Mike explained that police officers are used to making immediate, independent decisions based on the circumstances of a rapidly changing, high-stress, high-demand situation like this. In this instance, decisions made by fire personnel were always dictated by the Battalion Chief who, given the magnitude of this incident, was quickly inundated with decisions that needed to be made extremely quickly.

Locate alternative entry/exit points before you need them. The parking lot at the theatre in Aurora was extremely chaotic and getting response vehicles through the front entrance was virtually impossible. Thankfully, officers were aware of alternative routes to get into the area surrounding the building quickly.

As part of your active threat response plan, make locating and utilizing alternative access/egress points at potential at-risk venues a priority. Also, be sure to share that information with other responding agencies – including fire & EMS. During the Aurora incident, that proved to be a problem.

Remember to have a way of indicating that a room has been cleared. Every one of the 16 theaters at the Aurora scene had to be cleared and officers quickly began that process. However, it became apparent that the clearing process became duplicative because there were no obvious indications that a theater had been cleared after the process had been completed.

As a result, officers cleared theaters multiple times because they didn’t know they had been cleared previously. To avoid this, consider ways to indicate a space has been cleared, like positioning a chair at the door or running tape across the entry.

Have a plan for reunification logistics. In Aurora, there were more than 1,000 people who needed to be temporarily held for interviews and their cars needed to stay in the parking lot. Aurora PD called in buses to transport them to a nearby school after which they could be reunified with their families.

That’s a lot of people coming to one location. Plan for that. Where are people heading to reconnect with their loved ones going to park? How are the lines of people going to flow? Be sure you have a plan for where and how mass reunification might work.

As with every tragic incident, looking for lessons that can help fellow officers and other first responders be better prepared and more effective is critical. The aftermath of the Aurora mass shooting was devastating for the families of those who were killed, the community of Aurora and many officers who, not long after the experience, found themselves dealing with considerable post-event trauma.

Thanks to the efforts of Jad and Mike who have completely dedicated themselves to sharing these lessons across the country, their suffering is not in vain. For that, we’re all deeply grateful.

Have additional tips to share or an experience that other officers can learn from? E-mail us at: editor@calibrepress.com

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About the Author

Scott Buhrmaster

Scott Buhrmaster is the CEO of Calibre Press, one of the leading law enforcement training and information providers in the industry. Scott’s tenure began in 1989 when he originally signed on with Calibre where he was involved in the creation and marketing of the organization’s popular training courses and award-winning textbooks, videos and online publications. At core, he was involved with the overall enhancement and expansion of the organization and he proudly continues that work today.
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