One image from the Mumbai Massacre haunts me. It's a photo that was taken by Sebastian D'Souza of the Mumbai Mirror, a local daily newspaper.
That photo shows a young terrorist stalking the Chhatrapati Shivaji train station. He's holding an assault rifle in one hand, muzzle pointing at the floor. Slung across his shoulder is a large blue pack undoubtedly filled with extra magazines and explosives.
D'Souza snapped this photo while hiding in a train car. He is on the flank of the terrorist, and the terrorist doesn't notice him. From his perch, the photographer also saw many armed police who like him were hiding in the shadows, not taking the battle to the terrorists. "I ran up to them and told them to use their weapons. I said, 'Shoot them. They're sitting ducks!' But they just didn't shoot back," D'Souza told the press.
Now, I've never been under fire. But I know two universal truths of armed combat. One: No one really knows how he or she would react in such a situation until the bullets start to fly. Two: Training reduces hesitancy, instills confidence, and makes it more likely that a frightened warrior will do his or her duty and shoot back.
So I have to conclude that the training given to Indian police is sorely lacking.
And I also believe deep in my soul that the men and women of American law enforcement would have met such an attack with much more courage, and the bad guys would have had a lot less opportunity to murder unarmed civilians.
Consider the following examples of your courage and dedication to preserving innocent life.
Feb. 28, 1997. Officers of the Los Angeles Police Department are outgunned by two bank robbers clad in armor and carrying automatic rifles. Despite the fact that their Beretta 9mm pistols and 12-gauge patrol shotguns are ineffective against the robbers, the LAPD stands and fights. They face withering fire from the bank robbers, and 10 of them are wounded (some very seriously), but the officers prevail. They protect the people of North Hollywood and each other from the gunmen.
Sept. 11, 2001. Men and women from the NYPD and the Port Authority Police rush into the burning towers of the World Trade Center to rescue their fellow citizens. Many of them did not survive.
Feb. 12, 2007. Sgt. Kenneth Hammond of the Ogden (Utah) Police Department is having an early Valentine's Day dinner with his wife at Salt Lake City's Trolley Square Mall. Shots ring out. Hammond has his wife take cover and dial 9-1-1, and he goes out to engage the gunman. Hammond draws the fire of 18-year-old Sulejman Talovic and shoots back until help arrives from Salt Lake SWAT. Talovic killed five and wounded four. But if Hammond hadn't taken action that night, the casualty count would have been much higher.
These and countless other incidents in which American officers have stood and fought against overwhelming odds, run into the flames, and engaged active shooters lead me to believe that you would shoot back against heavily armed terrorists, even at the cost of your own lives.
Since the Mumbai Massacre, I've had a lot of conversations with people discussing whether America would fare better in such an assault. I believe we would. I think American law enforcement would react faster and with more courage than its Indian counterparts and that would make it harder for the terrorists to commit wholesale slaughter. Who knows, depending on what state they hit, they might also run into armed civilians who would also stand and fight to save their families and friends.
I write this to praise you for your professionalism and warrior spirit. But I don't want it to lull you into a false sense of security. Mumbai could happen here. POLICE correspondent and retired Cleveland SWAT commander Bob O'Brien discusses the scenarios and your probable responses in some of his recent articles on the SWAT Channel at PoliceMag.com.
But if/when the Mumbai scenario happens in America, I can tell you one thing for certain: You will shoot back.