The recent Florida school shooting has identified a number of areas where law enforcement may not have done what was expected by the community and by fellow law enforcement professions.
One of the most high profile issues is the SRO who allegedly waited outside the school for four minutes while students inside were being shot and killed. Many people, including those in the law enforcement profession, are quick to criticize the Deputy and some have even called him a coward. I have yet to read anything however that would indicate anyone has interviewed the Deputy to gain some insight as to why he did what he did.
I am going to challenge you as a trainer to be quick to look in the mirror and reflect on your training and slow to label and condemn officers involved in specific incidents. It is always easy to Monday morning quarterback and judge others from news stories or videos. In fact, the greatest lie in law enforcement always starts with the same seven words, “If I was there I would have.” Everything that comes after those words is bullshit. The only people who know what they would have done were those who were there and did what they did. The best the rest of us can do is speculate. What we need to ask ourselves is, “When I find myself in that situation or a similar situation what would I most like to do?” After you answer that question then ask yourself, “Have I trained my mind and my body to the point where that action on my part is likely?”
What you as a trainer need to do is set your ego aside, look in the mirror and reflect on your training programs and ask yourself, “If that was one of my officers / deputies / troopers / constables have I truly trained them to respond the way I would most like them to?”
We can all agree that we want that Deputy outside the school to enter on his own, advance to the sound of gunfire and engage the active killer and hopefully prevail in that encounter by shooting and stopping the threat and stopping the killing of innocent people.
Have you actually trained your people mentally and physically to do that? Have you trained your officers to enter a building by themselves, armed with a pistol, and hunt down and engage one or more threats who are likely armed with an assault rifle capable of defeating the officer’s body armor?
- When was the training this officer participated in?
- What exactly was the training this officer participated in?
- How realistic was the training this officer participated in?
- How often since the original training have you done refresher training with this officer?
- In your training do you actually help your officers prepare their mind for where his or her body may have to go or do you pay lip service to mental preparation?
The school shooting at Columbine High School was a wake up call for the law enforcement profession that we needed to change the way we train officers to respond to active killer events. I don’t remember hearing the officers who waited outside Columbine high school being called cowards. I remember us using Columbine as a wake up call to change our training.
The Rapid Intervention Response to an Active Killer training that followed was good training. The problem was that it too often focused on four officer entry teams and five officer rescue teams. Few agencies have the luxury of four or five officers arriving on scene together in the first minute or two after the call coming in. How many of your people went through that training where they might have been told, “As soon as you have a four man element enter the building and move to the sound of gunfire to stop the threat.
As trainers started to understand the reality of these events they started training officers in 4, 3, 2 and single officer tactics. Some of the research would indicate that the majority of active killer events involving intervention have actually been stopped by a lone person with a gun and an offensive mindset. Have you have made this shift in your thinking and training? If so, has everyone gone through this training and actually been trained to enter by him or herself and hunt down a subject or subjects who may have a superior weapon to them?
More recent events such as the theatre shooting in Aurora, Colorado have been a wake up call that we once again need to change our training. We finally realized that people were bleeding to death inside the buildings before we declared the entire scene secure and started to triage, evacuate and transport the wounded. For this reason many agencies are implementing Rescue Task Force protocols. Rescue Task Force requires a high level of interoperability between police, fire and EMS. That level of interoperability requires that you coordinate, plan and train together well in advance of the active killer event.
I hear trainers say, “Well I would hope my officers would step up and do what they need to do.” Hope is not a strategy when people are dying. If you are hoping your officers respond in the most desirable way you may have an outcome you do not like. When that happens it is easy to blame and condemn the officer when what we really need to do is look in the mirror and ask ourselves some hard questions.
I also hear trainers argue, “Brian you don’t understand. We have limited budgets, limited time and manpower issues.” I do understand. I get that. I have been there and faced those issues and if those are the issues you are facing then it is time to think differently about how you deliver training. We cannot make excuses and hope that in that critical moment our people will rise to the occasion. We need to have done everything we can to ensure they will rise to the level of the occasion because they rise to the level of their training.
What’s Important Now? Let no man or women’s ghost say that my training failed him or her or the people they were sworn to protect.
Note: After writing and scheduling this post to go out I became aware of a USA Today article where Scot Peterson’s attorney made a public statement. Here is part of that statement:
“Allegations that Mr. Peterson was a coward and that his performance, under the circumstances, failed to meet the standards of police officers are patently untrue,” his lawyer, Joseph A. DiRuzzo III, said in a statement.
DiRuzzo said Peterson believed the shooting was taking place outside the school and followed protocol for such an incident. That included taking up a “tactical position” outside the building and initiating a Code Red lockdown.
Peterson, DiRuzzo said, had the “presence of mind” to have school administrators go to the school’s video room and review the closed-circuit cameras to locate the shooter and then obtain a description for law enforcement.
The deputy gave his keys to the Coral Springs SWAT team and provided handwritten diagrams of the entire Stoneman Douglas campus for student evacuation, the lawyer said.
“It is our understanding that Sheriff Israel acknowledged that the investigation remains ongoing and that ‘investigations will not be rushed or asked to jump to conclusions,’ ” DiRuzzo said. “We question why this statement would not also apply to Mr. Peterson?”
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is examining the response of all officers in the case. DiRuzzo said Peterson will cooperate with the inquiry that “we believe will ultimately clear Mr. Peterson’s name.”
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