In June 2018 I published an article in these pages titled “School Shootings: You Have To Go In” that highlighted the necessity for today’s officers to look deep inside themselves right now and make the solemn commitment to themselves that there are things in life for you worse than dying. I reminded my fellow brothers and sisters in law enforcement that to delay, or not act in the darkest and most violent moments and allow evil to claim more victims is certainly the greatest failure. I challenged the outdated notion amongst cops that “No matter what, we’re going home” and said it represents a failed mindset and inverted priorities. That daily commitment that you must carry as a 21st century law enforcement officer to voluntarily charge into mortal danger in order to save the lives of the defenseless must be the bedrock of your professional existence.
Since that 2018 article, mass school shootings have sadly become more commonplace in America, with body counts rising every year, and American civilians becoming hopeless and numb.
Understandably, sincere questions and good-hearted opinions follow on the heels of each tragedy. What can we do? Why is there such evil? Gun control laws? Better mental health access? Arm the teachers? Tighter school security?
The causes and catalysts for each massacre are uniquely complex, and the most efficacious remedies have yet eluded us as a society. Politicians debate new laws. School administrators and educators seek more training and tightened security. Theologians and mental health professionals probe the soul and the psyche. These conversations are exceedingly perplexing, often leading only to desperation and bleakness, without viable solutions in sight.
While the nuances of such debate among civilians can be convoluted and complex, our task becomes even more elementary, laser-focused, and crystal clear. We are, and will always be, the front line. We stand ready to intervene, prepared to bring overwhelming proactive aggression against these murderers. We must constantly ready ourselves to be unleashed against evil in our midst at a moment’s notice. We must sharpen our skillset—preparing the mind and body. Each of us must preload the decision that if we are there,we go.
For decades law enforcement has studied the OODA loop, first outlined by U.S. Air Force fighter pilot Col. John Boyd in the 1950s. The acronym for Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act lays out the decision cycle that every human must go through, thousands of times each day in order to complete any task, big or small. In the police tactical community we have often applied this mental structure to high-risk situations for our own advantage. When executing precarious search warrants against dangerous suspects, operators utilize flash-bangs, explosive door breaches, loudspeaker announcements, or “break and rake” window techniques in order to confuse, disorient, and mentally paralyze a suspect with murderous intent, as that aggression buys time to move into position for a safe arrest.
In recent years law enforcement has uncovered manifestos, journals, and other evidence of intricate premeditation by many school rampage killers. These murderers enter a school specifically according to their own plan and design, and go about executing their dark intentions. Their pre-planning allows them to mercilessly stalk the hallways, shooting students without stress or fear. When a courageous, aggressive, armed, and armored officer enters the school as hastily as possible, and is suddenly thrown into the dynamic, the killer’s OODA loop is utterly frustrated. The killer suddenly becomes prey, instead of predator, and must begin to reorient and choose a new path of self-preservative action, and in that brief respite, lives are saved. Students are not continually being shot. Other officers are arriving on scene to execute justice. The balance swings in our favor.
You may be shot. You may suffer debilitating bodily harm, as may your fellow officers. Your career and even your life may conclude a few feet inside those bloody school walls. You may enter eternity seconds after your decision to go. And most assuredly, any of those story lines are more glorious than having to live the remainder of your days, safe and whole, knowing that you could have saved even one innocent life, and chose not to. There is no recovery on this planet from that knowledge.
Four years since that first article and nothing has changed for us. Evil sneaks through the door, without warning or apology, and seeks to devour the innocent ones among us. We stand at that same door, seconds later, with a vital choice. We will certainly serve and protect, but will we serve ourselves or others? Protect myself or protect the children? I will go. Make your commitment today, then stand at the ready.
Kory Flowers is a 22-year veteran of law enforcement and a lieutenant with the Greensboro (NC) Police Department. He trains law enforcement officers nationwide on various subversive criminal groups, leadership, and tactical communication. He is a frequent contributor to POLICE.