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Active Shooter: Considerations After VT

Richard Weinblatt

In the wake of the Virginia Tech shooting, departments across the country are reviewing their approach to active shooter situations. This has been the first major tweaking of the Move to Contact scenario since they were devised after law enforcement’s Columbine High School experience.

After Columbine, most tacticians in the business reassessed the “sit and wait for SWAT” approach and eschewed it in favor of Move to Contact. An aggressive mentality, which called for the first officers on scene to charge ahead in groups of three or four to form an assault team, took hold.

Training took place in all places in the country with folks such as the North Carolina Attorney General’s office spearheading the statewide-standardized tactic.

Virginia Tech brings the first tweaking. The original version of the assault team did not take methods to defeat their entry into the school, hospital, or other people-laden facility into account. At Virginia Tech, Seung-Ho Cho’s chaining of doors aided him in his final tally of 32 dead and 25 injured with delayed entry of his second scene by campus police officers.

Beyond the issues of the mental health tracking and treatment systems and the link to firearms in this country, law enforcement has a responsibility to constantly reevaluate strategies and tactics. As law enforcement administrators, trainers, and officers, the following should be done:

1) Review departmental policies. Policies should cover critical incidents for public and quasi-public facilities in your jurisdiction. Administrators and legal counsel should vet the policies that reflect your local, relevant case law precedents and statutory parameters.

2) Officers, particularly those who are field training officers (FTOs) should be clear on their agency’s use of force continuum or matrix. Swift action is only possible when officers are clear on their authority to act and do not hesitate.

3) Contacts should be made with counseling agencies and other mental health/medical care providers with due regard for the spirit of HIPPA (Health Information Protection and Portability Act) that bounds health care givers with confidentiality restrictions.

4) Having all agencies in your region share similar policies should strengthen the effect of inter-agency pacts and mutual aid agreements. The agencies should also train for active shooter events together to hone their unified response.

5) Role-playing should extend beyond just diamond and other formations of officers charging toward the shooter. Trainers should devise creative impediments to condition officers to develop abilities to confront obstacles and formulate on-the-spot solutions. This is an important one, as it takes detailed planning to develop the right quick solutions mindset in a training scenario.

6) Training should move from static role-playing to dynamic force on force training. The use of Simunitions or air soft type weaponry in the force on force training is paramount to taking it to the next level. Here just North of Orlando, Florida, we use Simunitions extensively in the police academy I run. The hard-core approach helps the aspiring law enforcers understand situations on a multitude of levels that classroom role-playing just can’t touch. We use it in our Patrol and Traffic Stops blocks of instruction and are looking to expand it even further.

7) Departments need to encourage extensive training that encompasses such topics as moving and shooting. Ammunition and range time should be made available at the expense of the agency. This is not an area to skimp on in times of budgetary constraints. The cost not to do so could be much higher.

Virginia Tech’s tragedy should not be in vain. This is an opportunity for departments to examine the above topics and others to push the odds back in favor of the responding law enforcement officers and the public we are all sworn to protect.

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