Conventional wisdom about response to active shooter situations has changed drastically since the Columbine High School shooting in 1999. It's changed even more so in the last two years. Not only is it widely considered fool hardy to wait for a SWAT team to resolve such a situation, it's now the new standard for one patrol officer to enter and act alone unless someone else shows up pretty quickly to help out. Should that officer go in with a shield?
Until recently the answer to that question would have been an unequivocal "No."
Experts in the field are currently debating the wisdom of a patrol officer using a shield in such situations. Traditional tactical shields can take a lot of fire, but they're also heavy and cumbersome. Waiting for SWAT to arrive with these shields doesn't make sense.
Newer shields developed with patrol officers in mind are lighter weight and designed to allow officers to shoot while carrying them. They can also easily fit in a patrol car. Examples include the Go Shield and the Baker PatrolBat. But they're still an additional piece of equipment. And they're expensive, as is the additional training that would be needed to use them.
Don Alwes, an instructor for the National Tactical Officers Association and a patrol officer with the Wilmore (Ky.) Police Department, isn't sold on the idea of first responders using shields when they arrive at an active shooter incident. He's concerned that officers will be encumbered by the shield and that it will interfere with their ability to shoot accurately, slowing them down and diminishing their
"One of the things we've learned in the tactical world, well before law enforcement tac teams, are the three tactical principles: speed, surprise, and violence of action," says Alwes. "Those are what we want when trying to assault a place where people are dying. The shield doesn't help you with any of those."
Alwes recommends using shields only if the incident becomes a barricade situation, or after the shooter has been neutralized and officers are clearing the building, "once things slow down."
Rick Armellino, director of Baker Ballistics, which manufactures the Baker BatShield line, disagrees. He says that heavier tactical shields are designed for slow movement, but those for patrol response don't cause the same issues.
"The use of the patrol shield helps the officer move swiftly in unprotected open areas and past doorways," says Armellino. "Without the shield they have to slow down for their own safety and use a lot of natural cover, which may or may not be available to protect them against ambush as they make entry to go toward the killing."
Easing Access Problems
There are agencies that provide shields to all of their officers. But those are few and far between. Most don't have the funding to purchase that many shields, even if they see a need.
"Mostly, we've found it's the rural sheriff's departments that put shields out on patrol and keep them in the vehicle," says Armellino. "They're on their own. Sometimes their nearest backup is in the next county and a minimum of 30 minutes away. They need all the protection they can get when they're out on patrol."
However, if the agency brass doesn't see such a dire need for its officers, most likely they won't purchase shields for all of them anytime soon. Some departments purchase a few and control who can use them on patrol.
One way to do that is put them in sergeants' cars. But that means a patrol officer would have to wait for the sergeant to get a shield to the scene before being able to use it to engage a shooter. Some agencies even mandate that patrol officers wait for a sergeant or other supervisor to arrive on scene before acting as a means of controlling liability. Armellino says agencies that follow this strategy usually plan to purchase more shields to be distributed to individual officers when they can afford them. But until then, it can be a logistical nightmare.
"If you need it, you need it," says Police Sgt. Tim O'Neill of the Avon and Somerset Constabulary in England. "That might sound obvious, but you can't wait for someone to bring the requisite equipment."