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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.

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.

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Mark Rivera

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Mark Rivera, Customer Retention Manager and CJIS Security Compliance Officer with Vigilant Solutions, served for sixteen years with the Maryland State Police, retiring at the rank of First Sergeant with thirteen of those years at the supervisory and command level. He holds a Master of Science Degree in Management from The Johns Hopkins University and Secret clearance through the FBI, Baltimore.


Can We Stop School Shooters?

You bet we can. American law enforcement has historically met every challenge, and it will meet this one.

February 19, 2008  |  by Robert O'Brien - Also by this author

Once again, an active shooter has wreaked deadly havoc on another American campus. This time it was Northern Illinois University, where a gunman walked into a college lecture hall and without warning opened fire on students with a pump shotgun and three handguns. He killed five students and wounded a number of others, before killing himself. Campus police responded in 90 seconds, but they weren’t able to stop him.

The NIU massacre is the latest in a string of recent deadly active shooter tragedies. So unfortunately, it’s nothing new. But what is new and disturbing is the apparent change in shooter tactics—shooting as many victims as fast as possible then committing suicide— before police can intervene.

The active shooter threat manifested itself in the early 1980s. For a number of years, law enforcement was hard-pressed to come up with a viable solution, relying on SWAT instead of first responders.

That all changed after the 1999 Columbine shooting tragedy when police recognized that waiting for SWAT was costing innocent lives. This marked the first major change in police response strategy to high-risk situations since the creation of SWAT.

Since Columbine, virtually every police agency in the United States and Canada has trained (and often equipped) first responders (read: “patrol officers”) to immediately intervene in active shootings. This tactic has proven effective numerous times—as the only truly effective way to stop active shooters is to physically stop them—shooting them when necessary to save innocent lives.

However, last April, the alarm bells rang loud and clear after the deadliest active shooter tragedy in American history occurred at Virginia Tech University. The VTU shooter planned the “hit,” which included impeding responding police by barricading and locking building doors. This only briefly slowed police down. They were inside the building in force within nine minutes of the first reports. However, by then, the shooter had killed 34 people and himself, all before police could reach him.

At NIU, police responded within two minutes of the first reports. However, the shooter still managed to kill five people then turn the gun on himself before police could stop him.
It’s difficult to fathom how police can respond faster than two minutes or even nine minutes. They must first be notified something’s happening, then race to the scene, locate, identify, and engage the shooter. Frankly, time is definitely not on our side when it comes to active shooters.

Active shooters are not only law enforcement’s problem and challenge, but also one facing all of society. For whatever personal reasons, some of the disgruntled and disturbed of today’s society have decided that mass murder is their recourse.

Active shooters are engaging in a deadly “chess game” against society and police, generating fear and causing us to change our entire way of life. Make no mistake about it: Active shooters are “terrorists,” maybe not in the traditional political sense, but they are terrorists nonetheless. Regardless of the source or motivation, terror in any form, is still terror.

This brings me to the reason for this commentary. And that is what, if anything, can law enforcement do to stem the growing threat of active shooters? I refuse to believe that “police are powerless” as some police detractors believe. History has shown otherwise.  American law enforcement has always proven itself capable of meeting and tackling any and all challenges , no matter how daunting or deadly.

The more than 1 million law enforcement officers in America today represent a wealth of knowledge and talent, which if focused on a specific problem, should result in a viable solution to thwart active shooters. This means all who are in law enforcement—in any capacity—not only those in command.  

I don’t pretend to know the answer, but I am confident that if law enforcement puts its collective heads and capabilities together and brainstorms, the solution will manifest itself.
But we need to remember the “clock is ticking,” because like lightning strikes, “it can happen here."


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