I don’t know that one can make sense of what happened Friday in Newtown, Conneticut. Everyone is searching for an answer; some logic in an illogical situation. But I doubt if there will be much, if any, ever located. In the disordered thinking of a person who would commit such a heinous crime, there is no logic. We rarely know what causes a person to cross a line into murder. particularly murder of innocents.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the families who lost children and the whole community which will never be the same again.
I always think about these types of incidents from the point of view of a police chief. I read the news coverage and listen carefully to police authorities as they struggle to gain control of a situation like this. I try to learn whatever might be learned from their experience.
It is very, very difficult to defend against a person intent on that kind of crime. Sometimes we do learn that they did indicate that they were having violent urges but sometimes they do not. There are limited resources for families with a mentally ill member. They can only be involuntarily committed for treatment if they express a desire to harm themselves or others. Some know not to express those thoughts to authority who could constrain their movements.
So we do what we can. Our police are highly trained and have been since the early 2000’s, to react to active shooters, just as the police in Connecticut did. After Columbine High School in 1999 police all over the country made a paradigm shift in how calls where there is active violence are handled. Historically, first arriving officers moved to secure a parameter and pin down the movements of a shooter to wait for a special weapons or SWAT team to engage the shooter. SWAT teams take long periods of time to assemble and engage. The problem at Columbine was that no one foresaw that the intent of the perpetrators was mass scale murder that would continue until directly confronted by police. So police changed tactics and have trained line, first responding officers to react more like SWAT teams and enter to neutralize the violence immediately. Just as the police in Connecticut did. I have read some reports that indicate that responding police saw Lanza in the hallway as they entered. He stepped out of the hallway when he saw them and shot himself, stopping the violence.
It may seem simple to enter and engage a shooter. But it requires that officers to make a methodical search of a school building–often through smoke, fire alarms sounding, darkened hallways, screaming and crying victims. They must pass by the wounded and the dead to continue their mission. They must have perfect fire control if non perpetrators enter into their path–and they don’t yet know what the perpetrator looks like. And they don’t know what kind of weaponry they are facing or if they are facing explosive devices.
They run in as others are rushing out.
In Auburn Hills we partner with our school districts to assure the safety of students. Officer Brian Chubb the School Resource Officer works with all of the schools in the City, regardless of district, to make sure that they have completed the required 2 lockdown/evacuation drills for the school year. Michigan law requires that schools must perform these drills. We track them closely to make sure they are in progress during the school year.
We also practice our active shooter tactics and are preparing to participate in another large scale exercise in 2013 that involves multiple departments. We are training our trainers in the newest strategy and tactics. We provide appropriate weaponry and protective gear to protect our officers as best we can while we ask them to do this important task. We train our command staff to give the order when appropriate and what tactics to use to achieve a safe ending where possible.
There are no easy answers.