Law enforcement agencies across the U.S. have adapted their
procedures and training to prepare their personnel to respond to potential Active
Shooter events in their communities. Various training models are available to
support these efforts.
The National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA) offers a
three-day Police Response to Active Shooter Instructor Course. The National
Center for Biomedical Research and Training (NCBRT) at Louisiana State University
(LSU) offers a three-day train the trainer for their Law Enforcement Active
Shooter Emergency Response Course (LASER). NCBRT is a part of the National Domestic
Preparedness Consortium. The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and the Federal
Bureau of Investigation (FBI) offer a five-day train the trainer course in Active
Shooter tactics through Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training
While each of these courses differ in the specific tactics
taught, common among them is training patrol officers to recognize an Active Shooter
situation and to rapidly take action to stop it without waiting for the arrival
of SWAT teams.
Enter Without Delay
Rapid deployment tactics are a departure from how tactical
incidents have been addressed in the past, but an Active Shooter event is very
unique and therefore the response to it must also be distinctive. These tactics
gained widespread acceptance after the 1999 Columbine High School
attack, when it was realized that delaying the response to an Active Shooter
event is not a good tactic.
Rapid deployment tactics have proven effective in mitigating
the harm caused once an Active Shooter event has begun. According to the FBI,
in 57 percent of Active Shooter incidents, the police have arrived while the
event was still underway.
Some shooters have committed suicide once they realized that
police had arrived at the scene. This was the case during the attack on
Virginia Tech in 2007. Seung-Hui Cho committed suicide in one of the classrooms
of Norris Hall after law enforcement had entered the building in response to
In other incidents, the police have utilized rapid
deployment tactics and stopped the shooter through the proactive application of
force. At the Carthage, N.C. Pinelake Health and Rehabilitation Center
in 2009, a rookie police officer used the rapid deployment tactics that he had
been taught while in the police academy to stop an ongoing incident. Both the officer and suspect were wounded,
but the attack was terminated.
The trend when solo police officers respond to Active Shooter
events is clear. Seventy-five percent of the time officers responding alone
must take action at Active Shooter events. One third of these officers are
wounded during their response.
Active Shooter versus
It is of critical importance that when patrol officers are
instructed to perform rapid deployment tactics that adequate stress is placed
upon when these tactics should be employed. Law enforcement officers must
clearly be instructed on the differences between an Active Shooter, someone who
is currently engaged in using deadly force against individuals and must be
stopped immediately to prevent greater harm, versus a gunman who has barricaded
themselves, with or without hostages.
Generally a subject is considered to be barricaded when they
have isolated themselves in a difficult to access location; they are or may be
armed; and are threatening harm to others or to themselves. When someone is
barricaded and is holding someone against his/her will, threatening harm to
him/her, the incident becomes a hostage barricade.
Historically, barricaded gunmen and hostage barricades have
best been resolved using a slow and methodical effort involving a team of
officers comprised of trained negotiators and SWAT personnel. A unified effort
between the negotiators and SWAT officers has been proven to provide the best
chance of bringing about a safe resolution during barricaded subject
Negotiators can compile useful intelligence for the tactical
team while speaking to the subject. The tactical team can initiate actions to
help the hostage negotiators establish and maintain contact with the suspect,
such as using public address systems or breaking windows on the building.
During the negotiation process, various surveillance tools
such as cameras and robots can be employed to acquire information about the
structure involved and specifically about where the suspect is located within
the building. Family members or friends can be consulted regarding access to
weapons and asked about the floor plan of the building. Tactical teams can utilize a variety of less-lethal
options, such as tear gas, to attempt to compel the suspect to exit the
location and surrender.
Use Time to De-escalate
The passage of time allows a gradual de-escalation of the
situation; and for those who may be intoxicated, it allows time for them to
sober up. The use of rapid deployment tactics on a barricaded subject not actively
harming people increases the risk of harm to the subject, to the police
officers, and to hostages should they be present. SWAT officers who respond to
a traditional hostage barricade recognize that they must be prepared to engage
in a hostage rescue should the hostage taker begin to harm the hostages.
Unlike the spontaneous application of rapid deployment
tactics, however, there is often time for the SWAT team to develop a plan for
the hostage rescue prior to initiating it.
Frequently the SWAT team may also have enough time to practice the
hostage rescue plan, but the overall goal is similar to the goal of a rapid
deployment, preventing someone from actively harming people.
The formulation of a plan, the use of specially trained
operators who possess specialized equipment and the opportunity to practice the
plan, combined with the use of gathered intelligence regarding weapons
possessed by the suspect and the building layout, increases the odds of a
successful outcome during a hostage rescue.
Prepare for Sudden
There are times when hostage barricades will suddenly
transition into Active Shooting scenarios with little warning. This can occur
before SWAT officers have arrived on the scene and made preparations for a
hostage rescue. Such was the case with the Nickel Mines one-room school house
shooting in 2006. Charles Roberts had taken 10 young Amish students hostage in
the small school house. After barricading the doors and windows, Roberts suddenly
began to shoot the girls. Ultimately, he shot all 10 girls, killing five of
them. He then committed suicide before officers could enter the building.
The slow and deliberate method used during a barricade
allows the negotiators to potentially develop a rapport with the suspect. During
this period, information can be gleaned about the suspect, his/her state of mind,
and the overall situation. Research can be done on the suspect’s background to
enhance the negotiation process. This data would also be useful to the tactical
team should they be required to act to resolve the situation.
A well-coordinated law enforcement response to a barricade
will involve a cohesive effort between negotiators and the tactical team
members, not an adversarial one.
Historically, the productive use of time during this process works to
the advantage of the police. It levels the playing field, allowing time for planning
and deliberation, rather than spontaneous action.
Wrong Tactics for the
The application of rapid deployment techniques during a
barricaded gunman or hostage barricade can have very negative consequences.
Officers who receive rapid deployment training should be specifically
instructed when these tactics should be applied and concrete examples should be
cited. Often the distinction between a barricaded gunman or hostage barricade
and an Active Shooter event may not be an easy determination for the initial
responding police officers.
For example, if someone who has taken a hostage fires a
single shot at police officers on the perimeter and then ceases fire, the event
should still be considered to be a barricaded gunman despite the fact that
shots have been fired by the suspect. The goal of an Active Shooter is
generally to shoot as many victims as possible. Rapid action is essential to
mitigate the casualties. Rapid deployment tactics are a necessary reaction to
an extreme situation.
Delaying action does not work to law enforcement’s advantage;
it affords the attacker with more time to inflict harm. Applying rapid
deployment tactics to a hostage taker who occasionally fires a shot at police
would not be appropriate. Just like every tool in a toolbox has its function,
rapid deployment tactics must only be applied during true Active Shooter
situations. Misapplication of these tactics will generally lessen the chance of
a successful outcome.
When is as Important
Officers must leave rapid deployment training with a clear
understanding of how to apply the tactics that they have been taught and an
equally clear understanding of when to apply the tactics. Active Shooter events
have grown in complexity. The June 2013 attack in Santa Monica, Calif. highlights
this complexity. The subject involved apparently killed two family members, set
their residence on fire, and then began a mobile Active Shooter attack.
According to FBI data, only 20 percent of Active Shooters go
mobile, moving from one location to another after the attack has begun. During
the Santa Monica attack, the subject fired on cars and a municipal bus while on
the move. He carjacked a vehicle while continuing the attack, eventually ending
up at a college. After shooting people outside on the college campus, the
subject entered the library building while continuing to fire his weapon.
Police officers utilized the rapid deployment concept, all
the while undoubtedly facing numerous conflicting reports of multiple attackers
at various locations throughout the city. Responding officers should expect to
base their decisions on limited and at times conflicting information, while
working to apply the correct tactics. Continual re-evaluation must be conducted
to ensure that the proper tactics are applied to the specific incident at hand.
Delaying action during an Active Shooter event will most
likely increase the amount of harm that the attacker can inflict, while taking
spontaneous action to resolve a barricaded subject with or without hostages,
unless the hostages are being actively harmed, will generally increase the risk
of injury to the hostage, the police and the suspect.
Training patrol officers to rapidly act during an Active Shooter
event is the right tactic. However, the use of these tactics must be limited to
the appropriate situation. The intent of rapid deployment training is not to
rapidly act at all tactical situations, but rather to apply them only to those
incidents that fit within the Active Shooter definition.
Stuart Cameron is the
Assistant Chief of Patrol with the Suffolk County, N.Y. Police Department. Prior
to being promoted to chief, he worked in the Special Operations Bureau, serving
as the commanding officer for seven years. Cameron may be reached at