The Aurora, Col. shootings are just another reminder of the need to continue to train for the Active Shooter. But this horrific event is not the most recent reminder. Two weeks after Aurora, a half dozen people are killed at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. Since Fort Hood in 2009, we have had school and workplace shootings in Fayetteville, N.C.; Chardon, Ohio; Oakland, Calif.; Huntsville, Ala.; Manchester, Conn.; Madison, Ala.; Tacoma, Wash.; Columbus, Ohio; San Jose, Calif. In fact, there have been two dozen school and workplace shootings since Fort Hood...coast to coast, border to border.
Given tight training budgets, perhaps the thinking is, “We trained the entire department in how to respond to Active Shooters just a few years ago.” That would be good if such training took place. However, like all psychomotor skills, this Action Shooter response is a perishable skill. Just as important, the “best practices” response changes over time.
If your department underwent Active Shooter training three or four years ago, the tactics taught were probably based around the first three or four officers forming an entry team. This team got into a triangle or quad formation and then went in to take care of business. No more. In many jurisdictions, the length of time to gather three or four officers is longer than the average timeline of violence.
Today, police training institutions across the country are teaching one officer entry. Solo building search tactics against an Active Shooter are very different from team tactics. At Columbine, we learned there is no time to wait the average of 50 minutes on SWAT. Over the past few years, the mere five- to seven-minute (start to finish) timeline of violence has forced fewer officers to enter sooner. It is now down to one — the first officer to arrive. So, the Active Shooter refresher may, in fact, be first-time training in an entirely new tactic.
At the extreme other end of the police response, refresher training is also needed in the Crisis Intervention Techniques (CIT) response to the mentally ill. This is not so much of a perishable skill. Instead, it is: 1) keeping the “tool box” of response options full; 2) keeping the need to drastically alter our normal approach to problems at the forefront of our thinking; and 3) keeping up with the changes in meds, laws and treatment locations…and all their new rules and lost funding.
A fair number of officers are fully CIT trained; however, these are primarily patrol-level skills. The first promotion removes these CIT officers from being the most likely to first engage the mentally ill person. And it is that first response, those first few moments, which often decide the entire outcome of the contact. While a few officers on your department may have CIT training in years past, they are all sergeants (or chiefs!) by now. The youngest of the patrol officers are the ones in most need of CIT training.
One of the more important side benefits of CIT training is a reminder in how to respond to a person with autism. (I just responded to a fearless, autistic child walking around on a two-story roof.) Another, just as important side benefit is a refresher in how to respond to a suicidal person and how to keep it from becoming suicide by cop.
Of course, the primary goal of CIT training is how to respond to the mentally ill — in all of its various forms. One of the largest hurdles facing these citizens is the stigma that the mentally ill are violent…because actions obviously affect how we respond to anyone. In fact, the mentally ill are rarely violent, arguably less prone to violence than the average person we respond to, and much less so than the average intoxicated person.
Officer safety is always an issue with any response to any call. However, the way we respond (this shouldn’t be a surprise) often dictates whether the situation quickly escalates or de-escalates. That is what CIT training is all about. In fact, CIT training will greatly improve the patrol response to nearly all calls for service. Those Use-of-Force reports take so long to fill out…