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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.

Active Shooter Response Revisited: Part 1

A new report could change the way officers have responded to active shooters since Columbine.

May 28, 2008  |  by Robert O'Brien - Also by this author

After Columbine, American law enforcement was forced to take a long, hard look at active shooter response. The standard response had been for first responders to contain and wait for SWAT. Since Columbine, the protocol for such incidents has become rapid first responder intervention—because the clock is ticking and innocent people are dying.

Then on May 9, Force Science News Transmission #97 was released. The report advocates single-officer entries into active shooter sites. This revolutionary idea is not a random suggestion from just anyone. The Force Science Research Center is a respected law enforcement research center run by Dr. Bill Lewinski.

The Case for One-Man Entry

The report's author is Ron Borsch, a 30-year police veteran and manager of the SEALE training academy in Bedford, Ohio. Borsch advocates immediate intervention by the first responding officer upon arrival—without waiting for backup. He has put this theory into practice teaching solo and two-officer entries for nearly a year.

Borsch's rationale, based on his analysis of 90 active shootings, is that every second that passes, more innocent lives are lost. He cites further statistics: 98 percent of killers act alone; 90 percent commit suicide on site; the average killer hit rate is less than 50 percent.

Borsch says time is the relentless enemy, and the best chance to mitigate deaths is immediate intervention by the first responding officer, who won't be alone long, because manpower will soon arrive to assist.

This report is far more extensive and detailed; however, time and space allow only a brief overview. I urge all of you to read this report yourselves and then draw your own conclusions. Whether you agree or disagree with Ron Borsch's report, it is certain to generate spirited debate now and into the future. Regardless of where you stand on this issue, this is a tactical idea that will make everyone think.

Careful Consideration

My initial reaction to this report was, "No way. It's better to wait for at least one backup officer instead of sending officers into high-risk situations alone. While seconds count, so does officer safety."

Then I took another look at what Ron Borsch was advocating, and the rationale behind it. Which is simply that time is not on our side in active shootings, and even seconds waited will result in more innocent casualties. This new approach is similar to the rationale for post-Columbine rapid first response, which advocates first responders acting first instead of waiting for SWAT. The big difference with Borsch's tactic is it advocates single-officer entries, instead of three- to four-officer teams.

I view tactics as "situational" in nature. That is, driven by the situation itself, especially the suspect's actions. This is a major tenet of policing: everything is situational, with suspects' actions dictating our response. Another major contributing situational factor is law enforcement itself.

There is a vast difference between working in a large agency with a partner and backup only seconds away and working in a rural agency by yourself with backup 30 minutes away. Talk to officers from both agencies, and you'll very quickly learn just how different their tactics are.

Working on the street involves making constant judgment calls, partly based on our training, rules, and laws, but ultimately on the situation and suspects' actions. The bottom line is suspects act and we react. It's the nature of our job.

Out on a Limb

Ron Borsch has dared to take what many would call a bold, controversial stance, thus opening the door to lively debate involving criticism and praise. It's too early to prove or disprove his theory, but that will change if/when LE agencies adopt his single-officer entry idea.

If there's anything to be learned from history in law enforcement, it's that situation drives and sometimes changes police tactics. The deadly Austin, Texas, tower sniping in 1966 resulted in the formation of the SWAT concept. And Columbine resulted in rapid deployment by first responders. Today, both concepts are the universal standard in law enforcement.

The debate over single-officer entries in active shootings has only just begun. Yet, active shooters have been with us since at least the mid 1980s with the San Diego McDonald's massacre. Compared to the military, where the study of strategy and tactics is elevated to an honored position, law enforcement strategy and tactics study is in its relative infancy. However, while we've only just begun to seriously study police tactics, we, in law enforcement, are quick learners.

For now, the jury is still out on solo-officer entries in active shootings. Whether you or I agree or disagree with him, Ron Borsch has given all of us something to seriously think about.

Before I weigh in on this report, I would like to hear from you, the readers and practitioners, whether you're for or against single-officer entries in active shootings. I look forward to getting some frank feedback on this controversial tactic.

Comments (10)

Displaying 1 - 10 of 10

davidkoth @ 5/28/2008 9:02 PM

It has to be left up to the Officer at the scene. If he has the ability to neutralize the shooter or even divert the shooter's attention away from further killing of defenseless citizens, go for it. Some will have that ability and some will not. It has to be an option that can be used but not mandated. There are Officers that have war time experience. Others that can barely qualify on the range.

larry w powers @ 5/28/2008 9:41 PM

Having worked in law enforcement since 1972 from being a reserve officer (called auxillary officer at the time under a city charter); a constable; a deputy sheriff from 1974 to 1982 serving as a road deputy;patrol sergeant;and lieutenant; and having served as jail director for the last 26 years, there is nothing new about the concept of a single officer responding to a critical incident. While serving as a patrol deputy in a county of over 830 square miles there was often one deputy on the north end of the county and one on the south end of the county on any given day. This same scenario still takes place in America every day in many small towns and counties across the country as well as with the single troopers who patrol America's highways. In each of these jurisdictions, if the brave men and women who serve them did not act, there would be no one to respond. While it would be nice to always have a sufficient number of officers available to respond to every incident, the truth is this is not always practical nor possible. This is why it is critical for every officer to receive as much training as possible and to develop a plan in his/hermind as to how they will respond under any given situation.
Larry w. Powers

Marino @ 5/29/2008 1:41 AM

I have read many forums on this controversial subject within the law enforcement community. I have to agree with Mr. Borsch's tactics on active shooters. I tried to envision myself getting dispatched and being first to arrive on scene. I asked myself, Would I wait for backup while innocent, unarmed, students and teachers are being gunned down? I wouldn't. We have weapons to engage the threat. We have radios to communicate our location and breach point to backup. We have body armor which the innocents do not. I asked myself another question, Would I want the first officer to arrive on scene at my child's school for an active shooter to wait for backup? Again, I wouldn't. I would want the officer to hunt the bastard down with a vengeance, while communicating their location and employing the tactics they were taught. I don't view these as cowboy tactics. I believe them to be protect and serve tactics. I've been on our dept's SWAT for 10yrs and have been trained in the quad concept as well for active shooters. I feel the quad will take too long to assemble. The police admin need to adequately arm and train our first responders for these threats. You can have the high speed weapons and training, but without the intestinal fortitude/courage to engage the threat they are useless.

award @ 5/29/2008 2:19 AM

I believe it would work in some cases..I have had active shooter training this past week at in-service training. I am a Sgt with the University of Memphis Police Dept. I agree that time is your enemy in a real situation.
Again I believe it has it's merit..It's going to be a hard sell to the "experts" out there.
Excellent article!!!

dino1106 @ 5/29/2008 6:21 AM

Great article. It really gets you thinking about the effectiveness of a single police officer entry. It's a shame that law enforcement has waited this long to seriously study police tactics and make refinements based on prior experiences. I have done a lot of searching for law enforcement tactical research and found almost none. What have we been waiting for?

gps1258 @ 5/29/2008 6:44 AM

I do not know Ron, BUT HE IS RIGHT. I am not going to bore you with my experience and qualifications, but I am a current SWAT Commander and Division Commander for a police department.

Cho at VT killed 30 people in 11 minutes, thats about one person every 20-30 seconds, not counting the wounded, he was not formly trained, imagine what a professional with an assault rifle could have done

90% of the departments in the country have less than 100 officers, with only a few on duty at any one given time

I have been teaching rapid response both to my department and privately through a company. I am thouroghly convinced that any kind of engagement within the first few minutes, will force the shooter to alter or hasten his/her plan, just like Cho and the shooter in the mall in Utah. No one says you have to charge into withering rifle fire, but an engagment or threat of engagement could save lives.

I also agree with the other poeple who posted comments, this is situational, each case is different and must be evaluated by officers through the lens of their current knowledge, skills, and abilities. To say we will always have a one officer response is the same as saying we will always have a four officer response.

One last thought. Think of your children in a school in another jurisdiction. An active shooter enters and begins killing children. An officer arrives and could engage the gunman, at risk to him or herself, but does not, they wait for another officer or two and then proceeded to kill the suspect. Your child was the last one killed just before they entered.

Louis Dirker @ 6/2/2008 11:24 AM

Like all police work it is situational. Most departments train in rapid deployment and perhaps now another aspect of this tactic might be tactical evaluation skills. We need to develop a shorhand method of evaluating the threat and determining a tactical response based on minimal, if any, intelligence. You want to save lives, but you do not want officers to exercise tombstone courage because now they will be second guessed if they do not rush in with guns blazing. Like response to any call...first you have to get there, you do no one any good if you crash before you get to a call or if you fall to gunfire becase of too hasty a response.

gmcmanus @ 6/3/2008 4:23 AM

As I read your article, I found myself thinking in second by second frames. I imagined I was first on scene at our local H.S. and hearing shots being fired as I opened my door. My children still attend that school as well as my friends' children and I found myself certain that I would charge my SWAT rifle (always with me) and go in.

I have been a 20 yr member of our S/O SWAT Team and I'm currently it's Leader. I teach Active Shooter Response as well as my Team's tactical training. With what experience I have, I have to agree that it is up to the individual deputy/officer to decide to act or wait. I think that in this particular type of incident, EVERY officer wants to make the tragedy stop.

It is how you train yourself, mind and body. I teach my operators to hunt active shooters. I tell teachers that when we respond to an active shooter, the only thing we will be hiding behind is the tip sites of our rifles. That's not tombstone courage, it is the desire to saves as many lives as humanly possible. This is not a situation for optimal officer safety, it is what they pay us for and why we took the job.

A cover partner would be nice, but not worth a single child's life. When it comes right down to it, the shooter is expecting you and fearful of your coming. I agree that the single deputy/officer entry can make a very big difference. I, for one, will not be responsible for the death(s) of children that a one minute delay might cause.

pconnelly115 @ 6/3/2008 6:10 AM

Perhaps the question every officer needs to ask him/herself is this: Could I stand aside, waiting for backup, while innocents are being killed and still be able to sleep at night? If the answer is yes, perhaps you should consider a different line of work. No one is advocating that an officer go running in blindly looking to get themselves killed. Use your tactics and mostly use common sense. If you're not confident in your abilities or tactics, then maybe you need to invest some of your own time on the range. I come from a small agency where we can only count on one backup officer and that may take a few minutes. A single officer entry is often the only real possibility. Due to our small budget, we also have to spend our own time practicing on the range, or we don't get any practice. My personal thought is that if the loss of my life saves the lives of some kids, I will not consider it a waste. But I'm sure not going down without a fight, and I won't stand by while kids are getting slaughtered to save my own skin.

mchretien @ 6/5/2008 8:02 AM

If you can stand by while people are dying, you need to find another job.

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