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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 2

Until something happens to dramatically improve first response effectiveness, it will remain up to us to figure out our own way.

June 06, 2008  |  by Robert O'Brien - Also by this author

First off, I want to thank the readers for your insightful, thought-provoking responses to last week's column on single-officer response to active shooters, which was advocated in a report from the Force Science Research Center. This week I want to approach this hot-button topic from a slightly different angle.

However, before I do, I want point out the reality street officers know and live with.

Running Toward Gunfire

Police work is often dangerous and involves risking our lives. It takes dedicated warriors with the courage and intestinal fortitude to go to the sound of the gun, while everyone else is running the other way.

Something we accept as just doing our job. Much the same as the military views being in combat, or firefighters view fighting fires. It takes dedication and guts to do our job. Those without these qualities don't belong in the profession.

Ultimately, each of us is responsible for our own actions. And there will be times in our careers when we have to take exceptional risks. The outcomes, however, will be based on far more than dedication and courage. It takes sound tactics to win. Absent sound tactics, the outcome is left to luck.

Active shooters pose a very daunting challenge when it comes to effective response. As Ohio police trainer Ron Borsch points out, time is not on your side. Every second waited means more casualties. Thus, he recommends immediate deployment by the first responding officer on scene.

This is a situational judgment call by the first responders. And this is where we left off in last week's column. This week, let's take a closer look at the dilemma, citing similarities to other hazardous professions.


Making rescues in burning structures is integral to this noble profession. And as with active shooters, time is not on the rescuers' side. Yet, firefighters never work alone, always in pairs. They adhere to the "two in/two out" rule across the entire nation. Taking this a step further, let me point out the recommended national standard for fire apparatus staffing is four, with a bare minimum of two considered too few.

Emergency Medicine

Although not necessarily facing personal danger, emergency medicine personnel race the clock to save lives. Whether it's street paramedics or trauma center doctors, they never work alone. Street paramedics/EMTs always require two at a minimum. And trauma centers and emergency rooms are expected to be fully staffed by doctors, nurses, etc.


There is no more dangerous profession than military in combat, where the mission is to defeat the enemy, and casualties are both expected and accepted. Throughout military history, it is almost unheard of to order soldiers into combat alone. The exceptions are situational and rare: tunnel rats and rescuers. Even snipers work in pairs.


By now, some of you may be pointing out that these other professions are "different." But are they really so different from our profession? Danger and risk, the clock ticking, lives on the line—all the same, except under different circumstances. Each of the above critical professions has developed its own situational tactics, based on sound, proven effective principles.

Law enforcement is no different, with one glaring exception. Many, if not most, street officers work alone, relying on rapid backup when they need assistance. Why is this? All of us know the answers: lack of manpower, not enough money, no "need," better coverage, etc.

Couldn't the same arguments be made for firefighters, medical, or military personnel? Yes, yet these noble professions recognize that proper minimum staffing dramatically improves the odds of winning—and saving lives. Our question in law enforcement shouldn't be how single-officer first responders should handle active shooters. Instead, our question should be why are there so many officers working alone?

But most of us already know the answer: "We've always done it that way." Followed by: "Don't make waves."

My response to that is it's the active shooters who are making the waves. And your response to me might be, "Get real. There's no way 'they' will ever go for an idea like that." And you'd be right. "They" won't.

It's Your Call

Which puts us back to square one: the first responder on scene, deciding his or her next move. The answer depends on the situation: suspect(s), victims, location, officer(s), backup, training, departmental policy, weaponry/equipment, and "heart." While one officer might immediately move to engage, another may wait for backup.

One compromise might be for the first responder to breach and hold and/or engage depending on the circumstances. This will buy precious time for backup to arrive. Somehow, someway, it seems to me that backup for all but the most isolated locations should be almost instantaneous for active shootings. Which puts a heavy responsibility on all of us. The faster the backup response, the more successful the outcome.

Until something happens to dramatically improve first response effectiveness, it will remain up to us to figure out our own way. Ron Borsch has provided his single-officer entry approach, and that might have to do—for now.

A Better Solution?

Still, my "gut" tells me there has to be a more effective, safer way than sending courageous officers against active shooters alone. If a prepared, determined lone officer is effective, imagine how much more effective a team of two or more of the same officers will be.

Now, let's see what "they" are willing to do to make it happen, starting with two-officer-car minimum staffing. Hold that thought and keep the comments coming, and next column, we'll pick up where we left off this week.

Comments (3)

Displaying 1 - 3 of 3

meddiver112 @ 6/11/2008 8:50 PM

While 2 would be better than 1, it is not always realistic. My department covers 504 square miles, and we have been known to have as few as 3 on a shift (actually, not so many years ago we often had 1 unit for patrol per shift). Accordingly, with an active shooter, 1 goes in unless you are willing to give the shooter free rein for a half hour or more, which does not make sense.

hammer115 @ 6/12/2008 6:11 AM

I agree with meddiver112. In the past we had a simular situations. We cover 648 sq miles in our county. The first time that I was shot at my back-up was 20 minutes away. Even today we normally only have 4-5 officers working a shift. It would be nice for those that control the purse strings to step in our shoes every so often. Any of these professions you can't get what it takes out of a book, it is something that you are born with. I think that most of us in this line of work would have a hard time standing around if an active shooter situation was happening while we were waiting for another officer to arrive. Sure the tactical thing would be to wait and enter with at least the second officer. At least maybe if you do go in on your own you may be able to contain the shooter. Unfortunately in these types of professions you can do everything right, just as you have been taught and learned through experience and still lose your life. "When you do not train someone else is, when you meet him he will win"

PJEVANS @ 6/12/2008 9:37 AM

We struggled in what to do in the wake of Colombine, out dept comming up with a 'hallboss' approach utilizing a bunch of officers. After a while some oldtimers were together and the subject came up--the independant thought was the same, if we are the first there, then we are going in alone. A fire team of 3-5 officers might be great, but if shots are being fired, then lives are being lost by the second, and if you have a gun then it is your obligation to go into the breach. Israel teaches us that anyone who can safely handle a firearm can definately do the job. It was just a couple of months ago that two terrorists snuck into a secure settlement, then got into a school. They ran into a couselor meeting and stabbed two, then were quickly dispatched by teachers with guns. Tragedy avoided, so no mention on the network news. Days after Colombine I was eating lunch with a dozen middle school teachers and 'what do we do?' came up. I braced myself for the onslaught and told them they needed to carry guns. All but one agreed. The lone holdout questioned me, and I responded that if I got shot outside her classroom, was she going to pick up my gun and stop the killer--or was she going to let him kill a room full of students. It only makes sence. CCW training, an extra day of trigger time, mindset class, a secure locker in a closet for when you don't want to carry, two hour update-requal once a quarter, maybe a training day or two over the summer. I guess the kid are not worth it. I dare say we have needed more guns in school than fire extinguishers or CPR over the last decade, but then again, the kids must not be worth it to the powers that be.

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