Active Shooter Response Revisited: Part 1

After Columbine, American law enforcement was forced to take a long, hard look at active shooter response. Now a new report challenges our current thinking on response to such incidents.

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After Columbine, American law enforcement was forced to take a long, hard look at active shooter response. The standard response had been for first responders to contain and wait for SWAT. Since Columbine, the protocol for such incidents has become rapid first responder intervention—because the clock is ticking and innocent people are dying.

Then on May 9, Force Science News Transmission #97 was released. The report advocates single-officer entries into active shooter sites. This revolutionary idea is not a random suggestion from just anyone. The Force Science Research Center is a respected law enforcement research center run by Dr. Bill Lewinski.

The Case for One-Man Entry

The report's author is Ron Borsch, a 30-year police veteran and manager of the SEALE training academy in Bedford, Ohio. Borsch advocates immediate intervention by the first responding officer upon arrival—without waiting for backup. He has put this theory into practice teaching solo and two-officer entries for nearly a year.

Borsch's rationale, based on his analysis of 90 active shootings, is that every second that passes, more innocent lives are lost. He cites further statistics: 98 percent of killers act alone; 90 percent commit suicide on site; the average killer hit rate is less than 50 percent.

Borsch says time is the relentless enemy, and the best chance to mitigate deaths is immediate intervention by the first responding officer, who won't be alone long, because manpower will soon arrive to assist.

This report is far more extensive and detailed; however, time and space allow only a brief overview. I urge all of you to read this report yourselves and then draw your own conclusions. Whether you agree or disagree with Ron Borsch's report, it is certain to generate spirited debate now and into the future. Regardless of where you stand on this issue, this is a tactical idea that will make everyone think.

Careful Consideration

My initial reaction to this report was, "No way. It's better to wait for at least one backup officer instead of sending officers into high-risk situations alone. While seconds count, so does officer safety."

Then I took another look at what Ron Borsch was advocating, and the rationale behind it. Which is simply that time is not on our side in active shootings, and even seconds waited will result in more innocent casualties. This new approach is similar to the rationale for post-Columbine rapid first response, which advocates first responders acting first instead of waiting for SWAT. The big difference with Borsch's tactic is it advocates single-officer entries, instead of three- to four-officer teams.

I view tactics as "situational" in nature. That is, driven by the situation itself, especially the suspect's actions. This is a major tenet of policing: everything is situational, with suspects' actions dictating our response. Another major contributing situational factor is law enforcement itself.

There is a vast difference between working in a large agency with a partner and backup only seconds away and working in a rural agency by yourself with backup 30 minutes away. Talk to officers from both agencies, and you'll very quickly learn just how different their tactics are.

Working on the street involves making constant judgment calls, partly based on our training, rules, and laws, but ultimately on the situation and suspects' actions. The bottom line is suspects act and we react. It's the nature of our job.

Out on a Limb

Ron Borsch has dared to take what many would call a bold, controversial stance, thus opening the door to lively debate involving criticism and praise. It's too early to prove or disprove his theory, but that will change if/when LE agencies adopt his single-officer entry idea.

If there's anything to be learned from history in law enforcement, it's that situation drives and sometimes changes police tactics. The deadly Austin, Texas, tower sniping in 1966 resulted in the formation of the SWAT concept. And Columbine resulted in rapid deployment by first responders. Today, both concepts are the universal standard in law enforcement.

The debate over single-officer entries in active shootings has only just begun. Yet, active shooters have been with us since at least the mid 1980s with the San Diego McDonald's massacre. Compared to the military, where the study of strategy and tactics is elevated to an honored position, law enforcement strategy and tactics study is in its relative infancy. However, while we've only just begun to seriously study police tactics, we, in law enforcement, are quick learners.

For now, the jury is still out on solo-officer entries in active shootings. Whether you or I agree or disagree with him, Ron Borsch has given all of us something to seriously think about.

Before I weigh in on this report, I would like to hear from you, the readers and practitioners, whether you're for or against single-officer entries in active shootings. I look forward to getting some frank feedback on this controversial tactic.

About the Author
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SWAT Sergeant (Ret.)
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