At POLICE Magazine, we're shocked and saddened by the school violence in Newtown, Conn. Our sympathies go out to the victims' families, the community, and the officers who responded to such a tragic scene.
As a law enforcement publication, we try to think about these incidents from the point of view of police officers. The devastation caused by the gunman was witnessed first by school staff and students and then by the crisis response teams working to stem the violence.
Every officer's worst nightmare unfolded in this small town; officers responding to an active shooter found so many victims. As with past incidents, we quickly realized that the destruction will ripple across the law enforcement community. Questions will be asked and "lessons learned" will be shared between jurisdictions.
Officers will undoubtedly reassess their own skills, training, and preparedness for a similar incident in their town. Officers who are parents of school-aged children will, by nature, go over the what-if scenarios at their kids' school. How would they respond? How will their kids respond?
Sometimes we forget that officers are parents, as well as trained law enforcement professionals. Most officers will tell you that being a parent responding to an incident involving child-victims can be especially difficult. It's difficult to see innocent victims of any age, but seeing child victims leaves different scars on officers.
Officers who are parents can't help but think, "What if that was my kid?" I can't imagine what these officers faced and the images they will be left with for the rest of their lives. So while we collectively grieve for the victims and their families, let's not forget the officers who responded to the violence.
By all accounts, the Newtown Police officers, Connecticut troopers, and other personnel responded exactly as they were trained. They arrived at the scene; assessed the situation; and took immediate action.
It's safe to say that every working police officer has been trained on active-shooter response. Many of the training scenarios involve school violence. This is an unfortunate reflection of current events. Officers go through the training scenarios hoping that they never have to put the training to use.
When uninvolved officers hear about a school violence incident, they breathe a collective sigh of relief that it didn't happen in their town or on their watch. Those thoughts are quickly followed by the realization that such violence could happen anywhere at any time. All officers should assess their ability to respond to such an incident. Are you prepared to respond to a school shooting?
In the aftermath of this tragedy, let's all take the opportunity to commit ourselves to being the best trained officers we can. We should train for these scenarios like they really could happen on our watch. We need to be the best mentally and tactically prepared officers we can be and pray that we never have to put the training to use.
Mark Clark is a 27-year veteran police sergeant. He has served as public information officer, training officer, and as supervisor for various detective and patrol squads.