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.


Robert O'Brien
Robert O'Brien

SWAT Sergeant (Ret.)

A member of the TREXPO Advisory Board, Sgt. Robert "Bob" O'Brien Cleveland SWAT Ret. is the founder of the R.J. O'Brien Group Ltd., a law enforcement training and consulting service that advises and trains a number of local, state, and federal SWAT teams.

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A member of the TREXPO Advisory Board, Sgt. Robert "Bob" O'Brien Cleveland SWAT Ret. is the founder of the R.J. O'Brien Group Ltd., a law enforcement training and consulting service that advises and trains a number of local, state, and federal SWAT teams.

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