The Challenges of Dealing With the Mentally Ill

One of the bigger challenges we have is dealing with the mentally ill.  It has become a commonplace call for our officers.  People in a mental health crisis are often combative, frightened and can be



Yesterday I was reviewing incidents of force use as we do here to look for policy compliance, need for training or improper actions.  I review the reports and the in car video, recorded radio traffic and any other available information.

One of the cases I reviewed was a recent one where officers were called to a bus parked in front of the Palace on M-24.  There was a passenger on the bus who was having an episode, standing up, talking irrationally, frightening other passengers and refusing to obey the directions of the driver.  So she pulled over and called the police.  Officer Michelle Hesse and Officer Mariusz Skomski were the responding officers.  Hesse arrived first and got on the bus to talk with the man.  While she was not wearing a body camera her in car system recorded the audio.  She attempted to talk with the man to determine if he was on some sort of drug or if he was having a mental health crisis.  He was incoherent and rambling in his response.  The driver wanted him off the bus so that they could continue and meet their schedule.  Hesse requested an ambulance because she suspected that he was having a mental health crisis.  When the ambulance arrived the officers tried to convince him to get off the bus with them and into the ambulance. He was frightened and became combative.  At one point he pushed Officer Hesse down into a seat and tried to rush past Officer Skomski.  They finally managed to get control of him and carried him off the bus and into the ambulance where he was restrained on the cot.  The only force use was to gain control of him to carry him off the bus.  No weapons were used or displayed.  Interestingly the officers later said many of the fellow bus passengers were using their cell phones to record the incident.  The officers are accustomed to citizens recording them with their phones–it is legal to do so.

I talked to Officer Hesse yesterday in passing and she told me that she decided she was not going to seek an arrest warrant for the individual for pushing her because he is mentally ill and she couldn’t see how jail would be a solution to that.  She felt that transport to the hospital and a petition to secure him a psych exam was appropriate.  I concur.

This case illustrates the challenges we have. Across the country you see stories of police use of force against the mentally ill that can result in the death of the individual or the officer.  It is a difficult problem for which we have very few resources.  There are no mental health specialists that come into the field–we are it.

Recently we had an opportunity to train 2 officers in 40 hour training sessions to improve our skills in dealing with these situations.  Given the week long school we could not train more than 2 people in 2 programs.  We just can’t spare that many people at once.  Officers Jeff Malone was trained in December and Officer Paul Wagonmaker in May.  As a result of the training Officer Malone trained other officers as we rolled out new policy and procedure designed to assist officers in handling these cases.

Jail diversion by the numbers | C & G Newspapers.

The Naked Man on I-75 Yesterday

You might recall that it was snowing heavily yesterday morning so officers were somewhat surprised when they were sent on the call of a naked man walking on I-75.   Here is a video that one driver posted:

Actually this isn’t a call that is that unusual-it just isn’t usually on the freeway.  The sergeant and the officers immediately recognized that they were probably dealing with a person who was suffering from what we know as “Excited Delirium Syndrome.”  It is a medical condition and is somewhat controversial in the medical literature because there have been cases where police officers who are called to confront this kind of situation and aren’t trained to recognize it use techniques and strategies that exacerbate the situation and the person has a sudden cardiac arrest and dies.

Here is a great article from July 2014 that gives more information about it:  “Excited Delirium and the Dual Response: Preventing In Custody Deaths”  written by 3 physicians and published in the FBI Bulletin.  The victims are usually male (average age 36); have a history of stimulant use like cocaine, meth, PCP, LSD.  We actually saw a significant uptick in this kind of call before the state outlawed chemically altered substances known as “bath salts” and “spice”.   Prior to the law change making these drugs illegal we were seeing these calls pretty regularly.  These victims also tend to have a history of a preexisting psychological disorder and are likely to be chronic users after a binge.  I don’t know if this man fit the entire profile but it is likely he fit enough of it to end up in this state.  Their bodies overheat in an extreme way which is why they take off their clothes.  They are very incoherent and usually combative.  They are not generally cooperative with the police so a struggle can ensue in which their body further overheats and they can go into sudden cardiac arrest.  If the officers aren’t prepared with medical nearby, the victim can die.

Fortunately in this case Sergeant Scott McGraw and Officers VanLandeghem, Haglund, Brehmer, Brasil and Brian Miller realized what was happening to this man and took steps to deal with this as a medical emergency.  When the officers began to talk with him they realized he was delusional–Officers VanLandeghem and Haglund were able to convince him to get into the patrol car on his own–they can be seen on the video.  The sergeant had already requested an ambulance to the scene but given the snow the officers decided it would be quicker to drive him to the ambulance so they drove him directly to the fire station on University to meet the ambulance.  On the way, he became unresponsive.  They drove the patrol car directly into the fire station bay and along with the paramedics they got him onto the gurney for transport.  At that point he became combative but fortunately there was plenty of help and they were able to secure him with the ambulance restraints for transport to the hospital.  The paramedics have also seen this before.

The good news is that no one was injured–not the person, not the officers and not the paramedics.  Because the officers recognized the true nature of the call, they may have saved his life.

I don’t know his status as of today.  I do know that his family was contacted yesterday and met him at the hospital.  The officers did their best to assist the family with the next steps.  It is a difficult challenge for family members.  I hope they are able to find sufficient help for him.

We are proactive about our officer training.  We follow the trends of our profession and search for training for our officers to help us meet new challenges as they emerge.  The job is complex and ever-changing and without regular training we would not be prepared to meet situations like these.

Patrol Sgt Brandon Hollenbeck Writes About Quick Clearance for Traffic


Below is training information we are using for our police officers and dispatchers.  We are reviewing our Quick Clearance AKA Traffic Incident Management principles with them in anticipation of the onset of winter driving.  It is good information for you, the motorist as well.  

We are asking you to cooperate with us as we work to make the roadway system less dangerous for you and for us and to help us get you to your destination more efficiently.

Guest Blogger:  Sergeant Brandon Hollenbeck

Quick Clearance is the preferred strategy of traffic incident management for officers responding to non-recurring traffic events (accidents, vehicles left in roadway, road hazards, road run-offs, abandoned vehicles, load spillages etc.)

It is important to recognize that even a minor traffic event may have a significant impact on efficient traffic flow which jeopardizes public safety.

 Quick Clearance procedures are designed to maintain efficient traffic volumes while maximizing public safety

 Removing obstructions in a timely matter

  1. Reducing “gawker” delays
  2. Reducing secondary traffic crashes
  3. Reducing response times
  4. Improving safety for emergency responders (consider traffic related fatalities for LE)
  5. Maintaining clear recovery zones on limited access highways

Quick Clearance is not an exception to providing high level professional police services

Important Hours for quick clearance:

  1. Monday – Friday during AM and PM peak traffic (rush hours)
  2. May – November Friday and Sunday evenings
  3. Two hours prior to and one hour following large crowd venues (palace, DTE, etc.)

Patrol Officer’s Responsibilities:  objective is to restore normal traffic volumes as quickly and safely as possible

  • Communications will attempt to have vehicles relocate to a designated area when possible.
  • If vehicles are not drivable communications will dispatch tow company without delay
  • Patrol officers will respond to the scene without delay and assess the situation
  • Patrol officers shall wear reflective vests
  • Patrol officers will request tow company (if not already done by communications) to remove vehicles causing traffic hazards
  • Patrol vehicles may be used to push bumper disabled vehicles out of the road (use judgment)
  • Move vehicles as far off the roadway as possible to eliminate traffic hazards
  • MVC authorizes officers to remove vehicles on public and private property if that vehicle is creating an immediate public hazard or traffic obstruction
  • If vehicles are drivable officers should collect driver’s licenses and order drivers to follow them off the freeway to a safer location
  • If vehicles are not drivable and not causing a traffic hazard officers should request the motorists to leave the vehicle and relocate to a safer location with the officer
  • Officers should provide transportation to the motorist and explain that we will assist with the removal of their vehicle once peak traffic hours have passed
  • Removal of vehicles shall occur during off peak hours or when removal would not cause unnecessary traffic delays
  • In the event motorists refuse to relocate: advise them that we will not be standing by, explain the dangers of remaining at the location, and encourage them to relocate with you until peak traffic hours have passed (we will assist them further at that time)
  • Patrol officers should request a supervisor at more complex events and any events during peak hours that involve 50% loss of road capacity that is predicted to last longer than 30 minutes
  • In the event the accident is a PIA and FD is on scene officers may need to encourage FD units to follow quick clearance procedures as well


  • Quick clearance is safer for everyone
  • Reducing the amount of time our officers are on the freeway/major streets (especially during peak traffic times) reduces the potential for dangers
  • When traffic is impacted during peak periods to help one or two people, thousands of other people are also impacted as a result and everyone is exposed to the potential of additional dangers
  • Quick clearance reduces the potential for additional crashes, minimizes traffic delays, and improves traffic flow

Sign up for NIXLE or on our Twitter @ahpolice for real time traffic updates.




Emergency Medical Dispatch has Changed the Way We Respond

You might recall that earlier this year we made a move to Emergency Medical Dispatch.  We purchased a nationally known software package developed by emergency medical personnel to direct our dispatchers more effectively in how to deal with callers with medical emergencies.  It is a system used around the country.   In the past, we did not give medical directions like how to conduct CPR or other lifesaving, we transferred the caller to STAR EMS our partners in emergency medical service.  Now that we are flying solo with respect to delivery of EMS services, we needed to make this change.  Along the way we also made a change to Emergency Fire Dispatch to improve how we are handing fire calls.

We have had extensive training and our personnel are operational on a software program called Pro-QA.  It is the highest quality software system we could find in the country and the one accepted by Oakland County Medical Control Authority–the rule setting body for emergency medical services in our county.  It is an automated tool to provide the very best in pre-hospital patient care. During the course of an emergency medical call, ProQA guides the process of collecting the vital information from the caller, obtaining the patient’s status, choosing an appropriate dispatch level, and instructing the caller with medically approved protocols until the dispatched units arrive at the scene.


This is what the text we get looks like. The call is an M or medical. The 06 tells the EMS rig what the medical problem category is, the C code means a mid level response –D and E are lights and sirens and police are sent–the most serious calls. The 3R tells us who is being sent-Rescue 3 is the dispatched unit. Then the address. We click on the https:// link and the dispatch card with more details pops up and we get another link to a Google map to the location.

One aspect that our callers will need to adjust to is that we no longer runs lights and sirens to calls that don’t have potential as a serious medical issue as we did in the past.  The dispatchers ask many more questions as directed by the software to gain information about the patient’s status.  They are typing the answers to the questions into the software which is being read by the radio operator who is dispatching the units.  The units in the field are also receiving a text message that is updating with the answers to the questions.  You can see an example at right.

It is a highly technical system and we like it.

You might not like it as well if you don’t understand it particularly when you are a caller.  You may become frustrated when the call taker keeps asking questions and you may get the idea that no one is being sent to you.  At a certain point in the conversation when we have enough information, the units are dispatched even though the call taker is still on the line with you.

See a demo of the software here of a medical call.  Note that there is a timer on the screen.  Every dispatcher is timed for each call and later evaluated.   Our goal is to achieve the fastest possible call processing time by each dispatcher while maintaining accuracy.

We also purchased the software for Emergency Fire Dispatch to improve our method for dispatching fire.

See a demo of the software here of a fire call.

We are changing to do the very best for you.

Mall Exercise Last Night

We had an EXCELLENT training event last night at Great Lakes Crossings Mall.  It was a full-scale event involving people who played roles as the bad guys AKA active shooters, press people, wounded victims.  Most of us, including me, played our own roles–what we would do in the event of an incident like this.  FBI was there.  Oakland County Homeland Security,
Great Lakes Crossings Security, other police agencies with officers trained to respond to this kind of event, Oakland County Sheriff’s Office swat team members–all in all more than 300 people.  Even the Salvation Army came out to help with coffee and hot dogs for the participants in that cold, cold rain.

Lt Miarka briefing the teams in staging prior to event start.

Lt Miarka briefing the teams in staging prior to event start.

Of course, there are always unexpected things that happen.  Like the rollover freeway crash on southbound I-75 right at the time the mall traffic was exiting.  We had to close the freeway ramp at Joslyn for a while so as not to add to the traffic jam since we had to close some lanes for a time.  Then another injury crash came in north of the mall area in a subdivision and we had to divert units there.  So we got started a little late.  Not to mention that yesterday was a looonnnggg day for our Fire Department.  Deputy Director Manning, Assistant Chief Macias and many of our personnel were on the scene of the tornado hit in Rochester Hills as mutual aid beginning at about 6:30 am.  And it was a cold, dank rain.  But that is just what life is like–we operate in the real world so there is no idea of postponing for any reason.

I admit that it was chilling listening to the original dispatch of armed men in the mall and an officer down.  I was sitting in a vehicle with Deputy Director Hardesty waiting to be deployed.  Deputy Director Manning was in his vehicle parked behind us, also waiting.  There is a system to the response on an event like this and we have all been trained extensively.  We use the federal National Incident Management System developed by FEMA after 9/11 to organize ourselves and make it possible for agencies to work together.  My job was to establish an incident command post taking over command of the overall incident and assisting the operational command post staffed by sergeants on scene, so that we deal with the next level of the incident.  There is a great deal to be done.  At first we waited silently listening to the dispatch and the response of the initial officers–after a while training takes over and you begin to think about what needs to be done, by whom and when.  In the initial phases we have limited resources so there was only a handful of us at the command post level to deal with everything from city elected officials who are calling wanting information, to the media and public information, to the needs of reunification of people and victims involved in the event, to the investigation (it is a big crime scene, remember?), as well as the overall fire and rescue aspects.  The event is dynamic and moving very quickly.

Overall it was a big success.  Whenever we do it we learn some things that we think we can do better next time.  We had lots of observers watching and evaluating us.  We’ll get that information assembled in the coming days so that we can review it and consider specific improvements.  But I think we did well overall.  One of the things we wanted to test was the Rescue Task Force.  We recently developed and trained our fire and police personnel to respond together to a “warm” zone  (not totally safe) to treat injured.  We are the first ones in this region to take up this new aspect.  We decided to do it because in some of these incidents like the LAX shooting, Aurora theater and others, victims have died while waiting for medical help because they were down in an unsecured area.  Traditional fire training puts medics in a triage area away from the action with the police bringing victims out.  Of our team of medics, 14 volunteered for the training –they are not armed but they wear ballistic helmets and bullet resistant vests and are guarded by police as they enter “warm” and even “hot” zones to locate and give basic treatment.  We had some local fire chiefs on hand to observe that aspect.

Firefighters gearing up as a rescue task force.

Firefighters gearing up as a rescue task force.

Lt. Miarka, who with assistance from FBI personnel, Oakland Sheriff’s Office and others, set up this mammoth undertaking which took about a year to plan.  He was here early this am, just like usual–( he looks a little tired though.)  Part of the planning was his extensive study of mall shootings around the country to learn what other police said about what happened and how they dealt with it.  He shared with us what he learned.  The event was modeled on some of the other events.  The bad guys keep morphing their techniques and we must do the same.

Rescue task force in action. Officers guarding medics who are helping victims.

Rescue task force in action. Officers guarding medics who are helping victims.

Great Lakes Crossings Mall is a very safe environment, precisely because they enthusiastically partner with us to train and practice for an event we pray we never have to meet.

Even Fox 2 came out to report on our training.

The FBI National Academy Through the Eyes of Lt. Jill McDonnell

Every few years we have the opportunity to send one of our executive command staff members to the FBI National Academy in Quantico, VA.  Command level personnel attend classes for 10 weeks to study policing best practices.  They attend with other police executives from around the country and the world.  It is a prized policing credential and brings value to our agency and community.  Lt. Jill McDonnell, our Investigations Division Commander, is there right now and sent back this account.  

I am at the 257th FBI National Academy, in Quantico, Virginia. This journey started almost 2 years ago, shortly after I was promoted.  I applied to the Academy through and was sponsored by our local FBI resident agent.  After a background and a physical I received my letter of acceptance.

The 10 week long academy usually host 250 law enforcement representatives from around the world.  But because of academy building construction and several new agent and Intel analyst schools going on the number was reduced.  In my class or session as they call it there are 212 attendees, from 49 states, 26 Countries and 3 branches of the military, of those there are 18 women. There are 3 other Michigan representatives here with me. (Canton Police Chief, Lieutenants from Ann Arbor and Wayne County Sheriffs Department.

The academy is on the Marine Base at Quantico VA.  It is on a campus, which is part of a large federal training facility for FBI, DEA and ATF.  The FBI lab and infamous Hogan’s Alley are located on the FBI National Academy Campus.

It is like being in college as an adult, and the police academy at the same time with a few more restrictions.  We are housed in a dorm and eat in a cafeteria. Tunnels connect dorms with the classroom buildings.  I have a roommate and suite mates.  My roommate Denea is a Lieutenant with the Capitol Police, she is responsible for protection of the 10 important Congressional delegates.  My suite mates Liz is a Major in the US Army Military Police she has done 3 tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. My other suite mate Karyn is an international student from New Zealand. She is a Commander with the New Zealand National Police.

Our days are kept busy with college classes (via Virginia Univ.) that we selected before coming to the academy. In addition to our classes, on Wednesdays we have physical challenges to prepare us for the infamous “Yellow Brick Road”  that will take place in week 9.  They also have quest speakers in the afternoons or evenings. Like college if there is free time on these days people do laundry, homework or sneak in a nap.

As one of our enrichment activities we toured the Holocaust Museum. One of our tour guys was a survivor.  On a Wednesday evening we had a memorial service/wreath laying ceremony at the Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington DC. We traveled in a motorcade escorted by the DC Park Police.  People were waiving and taking photos and videos as we passed.

There are extra curricular trips that are sponsored and organized by session attendees from New York and Philadelphia.  I took advantage of the opportunity to go to New York.  97/212 of us traveled on two buses from Quantico to New York, New York.  We arrived early enough, thanks to police escorts, to hit the town Friday evening. Five of us bought tickets to a Broadway show.  Saturday and Sunday were packed with planned activities.   On Saturday, we left the hotel in the morning to head to NYPD special operations division at the aviation hanger.  There we received a search and rescue demonstration and were provided lunch.  From there we were taken to 1 Police Plaza  (NYPD headquarters) for a tour. We got to see their “real time crime center” and the room where they hold their infamous COMPstat meetings.  After that we had few hours on our own, so we toured Chinatown and Little Italy before heading to dinner.  We dined as a group at Carmines, a famous Italian restaurant.  The NYPD Bigpipers provided the entertainment.  After a wonderful dinner some of us walked over to the Empire State Building.  We went up to the observation deck to check out the city at night.

Sunday morning the NYPD benevolent association provided us with a continental breakfast as we boarded our buses to head to NY Fireboat. We got to a ride aboard their large fireboat in the East River up to the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and under the Brooklyn Bridge.  The same boat that help rescue people from the plane that landed in the Hudson River.  Certainly this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and experience.   Following our   boat ride we re-boarded our buses to head to the 9/11 Memorial and Freedom Tower (1 World Trade Center).   The New York PD honor guard did a wreath laying ceremony at the 9/11 memorial. Then we toured the 9/11 memorial museum.  A very moving place that invokes numerous emotions it is a place everyone should visit.

One of our session members is with the Port Authority Police Department arranged for us to go up in the Freedom Tower which is still under construction.  We were allowed to the 63 floor to take in the view. When completed the Freedom tower will be the tallest building in New York.

Then we boarded our buses for a long ride back the Quantico, VA.

We just finished week number 4.  I am lucky to be heading home to see my family. Some others from the west coast or international students are not as fortunate.  When I get back from my weekend I will be finishing up two research papers, 2 group presentations, 1 lone presentation and two short papers. These classes will earn me college masters credits.

The amazing thing I have learned while here is that whether the department is large or small rural or urban US or abroad we all have similar issues.  The big topic with many agencies is recruitment and retention of employees.  Even the Major City Chiefs that were at the academy for a summit were discussing the issue.

I am looking forward to the next six weeks and returning to work sometime around September  29th.

For more information on the academy go to:

Police Use of Force

There is a well known sociologist, Egon Bittner, who posited that in a democratic society the capacity to use coercive force is the defining feature of the police.  It isn’t unlimited authority – it is limited by legislative action, court decisions, can only be used in the performance of duty, not to settle personal disputes and we can’t use it maliciously or frivolously.  Force use is an awesome  responsiblity.  We know that and respect it.

Because force use is a serious matter to be carefully considered, we expend considerable resources in training our personnel according to the most current best practices of our profession.  Force use training isn’t about target practice although we do train with firearms to achieve accuracy, we train the thought processes of officers to make effective, ethical and safe decisions for themselves and the community.  We train on pistols according to the state standard, we train on hands-on contacts, conducted electricity weapons (also known as Tasers), rifles, shotguns, Kinetic Energy Impact Weapons (bean bag)  and aerosol restraint spray.  They are all tools we use.  Each force use, defined as anything more than simple handcuffing,  is reported in detail and analyzed for performance improvement, compliance with the orders governing the type of force use and where we can improve our training.  One interesting fact that you may not have known is that injuries to officers correlate very closely to injuries to arrested persons.  Poor tactics are bad for everyone.

Internally we have an instructor group that teaches and trains our officers.  We train them to make sure that they are up to speed and use them as a resource to make decisions on equipment and policy.  They meet periodically to discuss what we are doing, how it can be improved and plan ahead.  These are serious decisions that we need to carefully consider.  An example of what can go wrong is the current situation in Albuquerque, New Mexico where there was a large and violent protest on Sunday over a police incident in which a mentally ill, homeless man was killed by the police.  But we live in challenging times, consider the actions of the military police officer who found and engaged the shooter at Fort Hood yesterday.  The officer happens to be a woman.  Given what has been revealed about her actions, I can say with some certainty that she acted as she was trained to save her community.

Force use by the police is an important issue in any community.  Our group reminded themselves yesterday that what they do and how they do it impacts how our community views us and the trust they have in us.

use of force


Gunfire in empty Pontiac school is sound of police training for the worst | Detroit Free Press |

A sad sign of our times is the recurring incident of active shooters in schools, work places, shopping centers and other places.  Here in Oakland County the police agencies work together closely in many ways and one is in this form of training.  The costs of the training are paid through a federal grant and we have been able to train nearly 1000 police officers from nearly all of the Oakland County police agencies.  This is critically important because of the close geographical location of cities in our county.  The police agency unfortunate enough to own the location of the incident will maintain control of the incident but responding officers can come from anywhere and act together to stop the threat in difficult and dynamic situations.  Here is a link to a news article on the recent training,

Gunfire in empty Pontiac school is sound of police training for the worst | Detroit Free Press |

Emerging Trends: Police Response to Missing Persons with Alzheimer’s Disease/Dementia

Earlier this year, all of our staff went through an internal training process to educate us on the increasing impact on police of dealing with reports of missing Alzheimer’s disease patients.  At last year’s International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference, the IACP kicked off a multi stage educational program for police nationally to call our attention to this important issue.

With more than 5 million Americans currently living with Alzheimer’s disease and approximately 500,000 new cases of this disease emerging each year, projections pronounce that there could be as many as 16 million Americans that will have Alzheimer’s by 2050. To help law enforcement protect this special population, IACP’s Alzheimer’s Initiatives program is committed to helping first responders improve their knowledge and skills to safeguard this special population.

You read the paper and see the news, you see the recurring reports of older folks who wander away from home and their caregivers.  Call takers and responding officers need to know what questions to ask family members and caregivers that can help us find the person quickly – where and how to look.  It is also common for police to make a traffic stop on an older driver who is confused about where they are and where they are going.

Missing persons with AD/D present challenges to law enforcement including:

•   They may not take a coherent path—searchers must redirect thinking of likely or logical routes and appropriately modify traditional missing persons’ protocol.

•   They often try to seclude themselves in natural areas, such as lakes, ponds, brush, or woods, early in the event. Once secluded, they are likely to remain in that location or nearby.

•   They likely will not respond to anyone calling for them, ask for help, or understand that they are the subject of a search.

•   In their broken logic, lost AD/D persons may seek to evade searchers if they suffer from paranoia or delusions, think they are “in trouble,” know they are doing something that is prohibited, or are simply scared of their unexpected surroundings.

Effectively responding to missing persons of this special population is a high priority to us.  We hope you won’t need us but we’ll be ready if you do.

You can find more information here:

How Do You Make Sense of It?

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.