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Bob Parker

Bob Parker

Lt. Robert Parker served with the Omaha (Neb.) PD for 30 years and commanded the Emergency Response Unit. He is responsible for training thousands of law enforcement instructors in NTOA's Patrol Response to Active Shooters courses.

Doug  Wyllie

Doug Wyllie

Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

Jose Medina

Jose Medina

Officer Jose Medina is an active member of the Piscataway (N.J.) Police Department's SWAT team and runs Awareness Protective Consultants (Team APC) tactical training.

Readers Focus on Active Shooter Response by SWAT and Patrol

O'Brien's last SWAT column asked for comments, and you responded.

January 23, 2008  |  by Robert O'Brien - Also by this author

Last time, I asked readers of this column to comment on what you believe are the most pressing issues and predictions for 2008, and where you see SWAT fitting into the bigger law enforcement picture. Not only did you respond, but you did so with concise, articulate views that speak to the heart of what SWAT and patrol are today.

Not surprisingly, most responses dealt with the issue of how active shooters have changed the roles of both patrol and SWAT. Patrol cannot afford to wait for SWAT while innocent people are dying. Columbine was the "wake-up call" that changed everything.

Change After Columbine

Columbine was the final straw in a series of active shooter incidents that began with the 1984 San Ysidro (San Diego) McDonald's massacre that left 24 dead, and continued with the 1997 North Hollywood bank shootout that left 11 LAPD officers wounded. After the McDonald's shooting, San Diego SWAT was expanded, with SWAT officers assigned to patrol areas. After the North Hollywood shootout, LAPD issued 600 rifles throughout patrol divisions.

However, it was Columbine that changed SWAT and patrol tactics radically across the nation. For the first time since SWAT's inception, first responders were now being trained and told to "go to the sound of the gunshots," instead of waiting for SWAT. This is a dramatic shift in strategy, and is forcing law enforcement to revisit the role of both patrol and SWAT. A role that has come full circle during SWAT's 40-year existence.

Which brings me back to readers' responses to my last column. Readers' number one priority is more training and equipment for patrol. The rationale is since first responders are being told to "go in now" against active shooters, patrol rightfully needs more/better training and equipment. And who better to train patrol than SWAT, who are the best trained and best equipped of all?

Learning From SWAT

One result is a greatly enhanced mutual respect, understanding, and cooperation between patrol and SWAT in many agencies today. However, an unintended effect in some agencies is SWAT's role is being relegated primarily to backup, extended and/or planned missions. The danger of SWAT's diminished role is atrophy and eventual elimination. The ideal solution is to strike an acceptable balance between patrol and SWAT; one where they work together toward a mutual goal, subscribing to the rule "the mission always comes first."

That effectively takes all emotional "jealousy" out of the equation, and replaces it with the goal everyone will likely agree on. The reality is patrol will almost always be first on the scene, and therefore needs to be trained and equipped to react effectively. Part-time SWAT need to spearhead first response, which means with ALL of their weaponry and equipment, taking advantage of their enhanced training.

With the exception of NYPD ESU, few, if any, full-time SWAT teams have the luxury of providing 24/7 coverage—especially on the streets. That said, too many full-time SWAT teams are woefully understaffed, and the result is they're often relegated to either " patrol" duties or traditional "SWAT."

Metro Division Model

A highly effective compromise solution in a growing number of departments (especially larger agencies) is a version of LAPD's original Metro Division. In LAPD, SWAT is D-Platoon of Metro Division, a larger umbrella unit of highly trained officers assigned to high-crime areas, supplementing both patrol and SWAT. Metro is also the "feeder" unit for D-Platoon, a proven effective system for many years.

San Francisco PD has its own variation of the LAPD Metro concept, with a full-time Tactical (SWAT) Unit supplemented by trained/ and equipped "specialists" assigned to patrol. Anaheim (Calif.) PD also has its own variation of this highly effective system. The beauty of having two complementary "tactical" type units is readily apparent.

"Trained/equipped" personnel are on the street 24/7, ready to spearhead the first response to active shooters and other high-risk incidents. This allows SWAT to focus on high-risk missions such as snipers, hostages and barricades, high-risk warrants, etc. The agency also benefits by having more "tactical" coverage, and better trained and equipped personnel—a win/win/win situation for everyone.

Back to smaller agencies for a moment. One reader recommended that more emphasis should be placed on training and equipping all officers, rather than SWAT only. The reality is smaller agencies lack adequate personnel. So, having all officers "tactically" trained (not necessarily as a SWAT team) will greatly improve the agency's capabilities.

The bottom line is active shooters have changed the way we respond to deadly in-progress incidents, where controlled rapid response by better trained and equipped personnel is the key to successful missions. But we can also never forget why SWAT was born in the first place. And that is to handle those situations beyond the scope and capabilities of patrol to handle. The challenge for SWAT is to continue doing what it does best – high-risk dangerous missions, above and beyond patrol's capabilities.


Comments (7)

Displaying 1 - 7 of 7

scott carter @ 1/24/2008 9:15 AM

I think we may be missing a good portion of what the S.W.A.T. officer really specializes in. Their main purpose is to respond to a mostly frozen scene where an extraction (good guy or bad guy) is necessary. This is not the only role, but the one that is most applied by a S.W.A.T. team. For all other S.W.A.T. mission scenarios, we should leave this to the highly training L.E.O. professional. For the "Active Shooter" scenario, we need to train our front line patrol officers exactly the way a S.W.A.T. officer is trained to handle this dynamic and deadly situation. To do anything less places lives on the line unnecessarily. A well-trained patrol officer (with S.W.A.T. tactics) involved in an "Active shooter" scenario offers a better advantage for survival and moves the ball forward for a responding S.W.A.T. team. "In the moment" deadly physical force situations dictate an immediate "In the moment" deadly physical force response from patrol officers to minimized loss of life. Why not train them proficiently? This should never be about “Well if I’m not involved or taking the lead, I may be disbanded”, this should always be about the priority of protecting the innocent people in our communities, period!!
Law enforcement agencies need to understand this thought process and reassure their S.W.A.T. personnel that this will not happen. We simply cannot wait for a S.W.A.T. response while innocent citizens are being killed. I strongly feel and have felt this way for many years, that front line officers should have the state of the art equipment, training and tactics for dealing with this type of volitile incident.

Thank you.

skinni99 @ 1/24/2008 12:40 PM

I personally agree with everything that is being said, however, reality is you have to train by the lowest common denominator or the weakest link. I have personally seen people raise their hand when their gun malfunctions on the firing line and ask for the instructor to clear their weapon. Those of us who work for a large department have several weak links. Getting our departments to train us how to shoot while walking is tough. Another obsticle for large departments is money. I believe our department spent a little over 5 million on tazers 2 years ago and that was like pulling teeth. I think the federal government should step in and offer funds for training and or equipment.

spoc711 @ 1/24/2008 2:06 PM

Great article in total agreement, but as skinni99 said we have to train from the bottom up!! my department is still training in the firing line method, stand and shoot at paper targets, old habits are hard to break and getting my departmnet to move forward has been an issue in weapons training, everyone wants the staus quo. from the chief on down people don't want to train in the real world methods.

gatactical @ 1/26/2008 7:14 AM

I am happy and sad to see the major problems are shared by all agencies. The Active Shooter training we have done in our agency was no more than CYA. We have a great firearms instructor who is diligent and tries to bring the rest of the department up to the present century. As the former commander of the training unit , the money and time issues are not new to me either. However, I too agree with the comments already posted and would welcome ANY ideas as how to 'break' through to our administrators. The idea of training to the LCD is hogwash! We need to raise the bar not lower it so anyone can just step over it. Our Patrol officer need the best of all the tools, training and SUPER-VISION they can get. After that, everythng is just gravy.

lpdswat @ 1/26/2008 9:30 AM

It is obvious that in 'active shooter' situations, patrol cannot sit and wait for SWAT. I think that this archaic way of thinking has been demolished in (almost) all departments and has been replaced by training and equipping patrol for the mission at hand. Perhaps some departments have SWAT train patrol and others have officers obtain the necessary training. However it is accomplished, the important thing is that patrol is trained.

I do, however, take exception that we train to the 'lowest common denominator.' Our department sets our standards high and pushes everyone to achieve them. Sure, most don't turn into supreme fighting machines but they achieve higher results than if we 'dumb down' the training. I think a dumbed down approach decreases the effective range of the entire group.

Shoot for the moon in training and take what you get.

Collegecop_wa @ 1/29/2008 8:03 AM

Excellent article. Active shooter incidents are sadly becoming the “norm” in society it seems and we in the law enforcement profession need to be on the leading edge of tactical response. Not just for SWAT/ERT but ALL officers. As it has been adequately stated by the other commentators, we can no longer adhere to the archaic standard of “wait for SWAT to get here” when people are dying at the hands of a deranged gunman. Every moment we delay an effective response to take the bad guy out, another innocent pays with their life.

I know training takes time, money and resources and every agency would love to have a bigger budget. In these times of doing even more with less we need to seek out creative ways to obtain funding and resources for training. Thinking outside the box needs to be the norm for us. Maybe some jurisdictions could combine the funds and resources needed to make training happen that they could not do alone. Perhaps you could contact the schools, colleges, universities and businesses in your area and ask them for help with training, both funding and resources. Sell them on the idea that it is their staff/students/employees you will be called out to save and the more familiar you are with their campus/workplace the better your response will be and the more lives you can possibly save. See if they would be willing to help pay for the training or provide the space for you to train in.

I know these ideas aren’t new and they would have to get approval from all sorts of folks before they could happen, but if you aren’t doing training like this right now, what is the harm in asking for it? Worse case scenario is they will say no, and you are no worse off than you were to begin with. But if they manage to get all the people involved on board and green light the training, the wealth of tactical experience you will gain is worth the effort of getting the ball rolling.

Stay safe everyone!

adrian stroud @ 1/30/2008 5:44 AM

Well written article. As we were taught years ago, "Patrol is the backbone of the department!" Patrol is finally getting some recognition. We have all learned from the various active shooter cases. When I started, I leaned from the Miami F.B.I. shootout. I carry as much equipment as I can when I go on on the road (AR-15, Taser). The main lesson that I learned from Agent Edmundo Mireles in the Miami incident was to carry as much ammo as I can. I can say, that I feel especially better on the road knowing that there are SWAT officers in my neighboring districts on patrol. That level of training is reassuring to me. I am lucky to be in a bigger department with a SWAT taem. I have also worked places where we had no SWAT (or worse, we disbanded it one place that I worked). Nowadays, as Patrolmen we are the SWAT team until SWAT arrives!

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