The Active Shooter: Patrol's Number One Training Concern

The case for the hunter becoming the hunted will, often, come down to you, the patrol officer. You will be the last line of defense for those who are coming under attack.

Author Dean Scoville Headshot

"An armed society is a polite society." - Robert Heinlein

I suppose it wouldn't be hard in this day and age to imagine some pre- or post-apocalyptic world populated by rogue gangs descending upon neighborhoods. Something along the lines of what apparently keeps authors like Richard Matheson  and Cormac McCarthy awake at night.

And one day, we may wake to find such things have come to pass. Anymore, about the only thing that would shock the living shit out of me would be world peace.

I do know this much: This is not the world I envisioned as a child.

But of the eventualities that have come to pass, perhaps none are more alarming than the prospect of a mass shooting, be it at a workplace, school, mall, entertainment venue, or place of worship.

For while gang shootings have perennially exacted higher tolls than the mass shooter, the lone shooter leisurely making his way through workplace offices and school hallways will always exact an exponentially higher cost. And unlike the robber who shoots and runs, the lone shooter may very well be on scene at the time of your arrival.

Mass shootings in America are nothing new. In 1949, war veteran Howard Unruh leisurely walked down through his New Jersey neighborhood shooting and killing 13 in what became known as his "walk of death." In 1966 Charles Whitman fired from atop a Texas university tower killing 14 and wounding scores more. In 1973, a military veteran opened fire in Louisiana, killing several cops and civilians.

But whereas such incidents were thankfully few and far between, today they are less unusual. The past three decades have given us increasing numbers of workplace shootings and school massacres. Even daycare centers are not immune from the threat of a homicidal maniac.

While America has had by far the most acknowledged incidents, few countries have been spared. Horror stories can be found in countries like Germany and Australia. And where firearms are not as prevalent, swords and knives have been used with equal efficacy in countries such as Scotland and Japan. Just this week, a man with a knife killed eight elementary children and wounded many more.

Closer to home, an assault on our military by one of its alleged own dominated the headlines this past fall. While his motive was clearly terrorist in intent, his M.O. was not demonstrably different from that of any other disgruntled SOB with a grudge who decides he's going to hell and wants some company to go with him.

Such are the reasons that I believe there is no greater continued threat to you and the community than the active shooter.

Unlike serial killers, there is no established profile. "Loner" doesn't explain away the reasons for these tragedies. Reasons offered range from having been bullied to religious dogma to brain cancer to denied promotions (or denied tenure, as in last month's Alabama professor who shot some colleagues). Whatever the catalyst, the bottom line is that there will continue to be those who will occasionally go out like James Huberty and "hunt humans."

The case for the hunter becoming the hunted will, often, come down to you, the patrol officer. You will be the last line of defense for those who are coming under attack. And whether it's a single gunman, the tandem likes of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, or some Beslan-like attack, you may well find yourself the first officer on scene.

Will you be psychologically and logistically prepared to engage? Will you have the requisite training and physicality with which to persevere? Will you be able to deal with whatever form the aftermath takes?

These are questions that each officer should ask of themselves, and their employers should ask on their behalf.

Awhile back, the Department of Homeland Security asked science fiction authors to act as consultants in anticipating possible terrorist situations. What they were coveting was their imagination: the ability to think outside the box and come up with innovative scenarios.

You need to be equally creative. Think outside the box. I still wonder how those two SOBs would've fared in their ballistic garb if some cop had scaled atop that North Hollywood bank and tossed a Molotov cocktail on their asses. What vehicles or weapons might you commandeer?

Consider the implications of the man who fired on two Pentagon police officers before being taken out by a third. What if he'd succeeded in gaining access to occupied rooms? What would you do? Rush in after him? Wait for additional shots to be fired?

I was never really enamored of stationary targets. With the exception of those who have some sort of death wish, I have rarely seen armed suspects remain in one spot while engaging officers. True, they might even move toward the officers, but the fact remains they move. And to paraphrase Bruce Lee, targets don't shoot back.

While I'm not a huge fan of "The Way of the Gun," I thought it did a better than average job of showing the difficulties of engaging armed opponents. As the final firefight progresses, people repeatedly miss, obliging the shooters to re-load, move, and take cover.

Such are the reasons why Hogan's Alley shooting ranges, simulators, and role plays with paint guns are more effective, particularly when one factors in the fact that the vast majority of officer-involved shootings take place in much closer quarters and in conditions that are decidedly different than "ready on the left, ready on the right, all ready on the firing line."

If you have the warrior mindset that is prone to go out and practice your shooting anyway, I'm preaching to the choir.

But if you're the guy who really hopes that he never has to have another's life on his conscience, then I suggest that you hit the range with greater frequency than you're probably inclined to.

For reverence for human life includes our own, and if the day comes when you're incapable of taking the necessary shot and someone else dies because of it, how will you deal with your conscience then?

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Author Dean Scoville Headshot
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