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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.

Suicidal Active Shooter: The Answer

You told us how you would handle the scenario. Here's our answer.

October 17, 2013  |  by Bob Parker - Also by this author

Photo via Israel/Flickr.
Photo via Israel/Flickr.

With this SWAT blog, we're providing the answer presented in "Suicidal Active Shooter: What Would You Do?We asked how you would handle it, and you gave some great answers. Here's the outcome:

You've only got two options with the information you've received. Shoot the suspect or conduct some ad hoc negotiations in the hallway and attempt to get the suspect to place his weapon on the floor and submit to arrest.  Regardless of your decision, you have to be conscious of the students that are still in the lobby, or unknown numbers that may still be in adjacent rooms. 

Innocents can be harmed with gunfire directed at the suspect or fired from the suspect's weapon. It can be a danger to those down range to your rear. And the "plus one rule" must be observed. You know where the primary suspect, the focus of the call is, but is there another armed second potential shooter, regardless of what this scenario appears to be?

If You Don't Shoot

Decide not to shoot and talk him into surrender? The upside, of course, is you don't have to take a life. Fewer reports, no grand jury proceedings, no administrative duty while your actions are investigated. And your face(s) and name(s) stay off the front page and the 11 o'clock news.

The suspect may have been full of false bravado in front of his classmates.  He may have been attempting to get attention and sympathy from his ex-girlfriend. Now, when confronted with armed professionals, he may be having a change of heart. And he may be looking for anyone who will listen to his troubles. Good street cops know that empathy with a victim or suspect can go a long way in seeking a peaceful resolution.

If You Shoot

Decide to shoot him when he failed to comply after numerous commands to drop the weapon and follow your instructions? Be ready to articulate the steps and rationale that led to your decision.

Is the weapon a real weapon? Is it loaded? You don't know and can't be expected to know. But, the suspect had the pistol pointed at his own head.  He never pointed it at innocents or law enforcement officers. He even stated that he didn't want to hurt anyone else. And all of those classmates that are in line of sight when you fire are not going to be witnesses for you. 

With all of this information, keep in mind what you know and civilians don't ever recognize: Action always beats reaction. That pistol may be pointed at the subject's head, but he can point it in your direction faster than you can react and shoot him. In dry fire drills, of which I've conducted many, I've never seen an outcome better than a tie.

And even if you did pull your trigger faster, a suspect can still get off a round or more. No, the shots may not be aimed but they can still be deadly, for both you and innocents down range.

And just because you heard about a similar incident where the cops didn't shoot doesn't make your decision making any easier. What worked yesterday may not be the answer today. There are too many variables involved. In its own way every call is different. 

Your Choice

Either option you chose was correct for this exercise. I've conducted this scenario around the country for over 10 years. It breaks down close to 50-50 from the teams I've run through this.

Comments (10)

Displaying 1 - 10 of 10

Debra Ogburn @ 10/18/2013 4:39 PM

Instead of shooting to kill the suspect try to talk to him and try to get him to talk himself into giving himself up peacefully

Steven Blue @ 10/18/2013 8:40 PM

Suicidal Active Shooter- The answers are touching and very true indeed. My question the Officer shoots and the Suspect dies R.I.P.. Is there a way or chance that the Suspect could have been shot in the leg which perhaps dropped the weapon.

Robert Avery @ 10/19/2013 4:51 AM

33 years as a cop, SWAT, etc., had a few just like this & I have always taken he road that first you get everyone out that can be, be in a position that you are behind protections while you try and talk him out of it. 50% chance he will put the gun down. I have had the other 50% that do shoot themselves. Shooting them while there are people still in danger is foolish so get anyone away that can be. Have cover, try to negotiate; time is on your side as long as you have protection. cover is not protection. If he turns the gun & you are behind protections you can return fire. I was an Officer Survival Instructor, action is always faster than reaction. Your lucky if you had a tie. I trust in action Vs reaction. I would only shoot first, if I had no protective cover, & the suspect was erratic in behavior & you could not negotiate. Every way, you may loose. Being a cop in this position is a bitch. Killing them may stop the scenario, but for the officer, you will question it forever.

Joe Ramsey @ 10/19/2013 6:15 AM

I concur with Robert Avery's comment 100%. Suicidal subjects are in a crisis in their own mind. Reaching inside that mind and talking the subject down at every turn is always the best option. To be proactive instead of reactive depends on safety to civilians the to fellow Law Enforcement. Depending on cover. It's no less than Officer Avery's scenario. One on one confrontation with almost every option off the table except talk, kill or endanger the innocent civilians and yourself. It's a bitch to even fathom cover or not. By default you must adapt to being several people all at once. Negotiator, a psychologist and a man that has the ability to save a life and live with it or take a life and live with it. This is not a scientific educated guess situation. A real class 1A bitch. Training ... training ... training.

Dean Collins @ 10/21/2013 1:53 PM

Wisconsin Statute 939.48 (5) states that the intentional use of deadly force may NOT be used to prevent a person from committing suicide.

David Aclock @ 10/21/2013 1:59 PM

I offer this as a question and am interested in the responses. If the responding officer is armed with a shotgun and 00 buck, and the subject is at reasonably close range, is it ever feasible to shoot the subject in the gun hand? I know from experience that there is very little spread with 00 at close ranges, and I've routinely been able to "take out" the hand at those ranges...granted, doing it with targets not people. If such a shot is feasible the subject would live, though of course his golf game would be severely impacted by having to use a hook instead of fingers...

Pup @ 10/21/2013 3:11 PM

>David Aclock< To those without law enforcement and judicial knowledge in CA, the use of a firearm shall be only be used to protect the life of yourself and/or the life of another. A suicidal person does not qualify under this definition. Many people view movies as real life, but as we should all know they are make-to-believe. Many factors go into shooting, especially when a person is intentionally shot. I couldn't imagine what would happen if LE intentionally "winged" (wound) or attempted to do so on a suicidal person.
If we were allowed, to many factors of "what if's" would be viewed and questioned. Not to mention the investigation, liability, civil suits, criminal proceedings, news media, family members, etc..

MI DAVI @ 2/6/2014 6:15 PM

I’m always amazed by the comments about “just shoot him in the leg”. “He will drop the gun; you didn’t have to kill him”. Really people? Remember this isn't a call of a suicidal man with a gun in his apartment. It’s a man with a gun, suicidal or not in a public venue. Several innocent people could be killed or directly affected by the actions of this person. What if you chose to take the route of attempting to negotiate and then he turns the weapon on an innocent person and kill’s them or worse yet, your partner? That is a decision that I would not want to live with. You are there to protect the lives of innocent people and as importantly yourself. The “what if’s” are endless. But the one decision that you can control at that moment is that this person hurts no more innocent people. I will sleep much better knowing that I have to explain that a man with a gun in a "public place" did not hurt anymore innocent people. He chose to create the situation. Be First!

Argo237361 @ 1/19/2016 1:36 PM

Swat teams, please see survey. Thanks

Russel L. @ 9/1/2016 1:06 PM

To: Steven Blue

Nobody has any idea what will happen to a bullet once it enters a body. Officers have been shot in the arm and have died from the bullet entering the chest cavity and hitting vital organs.

What if you shoot a subject in the leg and a sympathetic response causes the subject to shoot himself in the head? What if he dies a week later from your gunshot wound. There is more that can be said, but you get the point.

Just wing 'em worked great for old TV westerns, but it does not work in real life.

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