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4 ways to improve the ‘rapid’ part of rapid deployment

Here are four things the first arriving officer should do to save as many lives as possible


In this Dec. 2, 2015 file photo authorities search an area near where police stopped a suspected vehicle in San Bernardino, Calif.

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At the 2016 International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA) conference, Don Alwes — lead trainer for the National Tactical Officers Association — again invited me to be a part of the discussion panel for the session on rapid deployment. One of the most prominent notes I jotted down that day was the continuing tendency for responding officers to delay their entry into an active shooter venue.

This is not meant to be critical of any particular officers’ actions, but we must always analyze performance and recommend improvements.

We heard details of the 2015 San Bernardino terrorist attack and the 2013 active shooter incident at the Navy Yard in Washington D.C. Both events involved officers who delayed entry for a substantial amount of time after they arrived.

Unquestionably, the sooner police officers make entry into the hot/kill zone, the better for the innocents in harm’s way. If the shooter(s) is still actively killing, the goal is simple: stop the killing. If the active killer is gone or has self-inflicted — as they are often do — then your mission is to make a safe area for “downrange EMS” and treat the most severely wounded with the gear you have.

Here are four things the first arriving officer should do to save as many lives as possible:

1. Don’t wait for four officers. If your training/policy still requires a four-officer team, you are long out of date. Several studies point to the need for an instant response by the first responding officer.

2. Make immediate entry into the hot/kill zone and begin hunting the killer(s). Keep dispatch frequently advised of your location so arriving officers can find you and combine into a more effective team.

3. Maintain situational awareness and use clues which can point you to the killer(s). In a 2003 study published by the Illinois State Police Academy, (available via email from me) on-scene officers only heard gunshots in two of the 44 incidents they debriefed. You may not be able to “run to the sound of the guns.” Witnesses, bodies and fired casings can lead you to the point of active killing.

4. Get medical help to the injured ASAP. Do not stop hunting until you are satisfied the killing has stopped. Only then should you personally render aid to anyone but yourself. It is rapidly becoming the accepted best practice for Fire/EMS to go downrange, into the hot zone, to treat the most severely injured. When they arrive, your mission becomes the protection of the medics as they work.

In all honesty, number two on the above list is the choke point in seeing rapid deployment take place as rapidly as possible. If you are the first arriving officer at a horrific mass shooting, going in by yourself will require a deep breath, clear eyes and a damned big pocketful of courage. Making a solo entry will not be easy, but it is necessary if you mean to save as many innocents as possible.

If you arrive and find other officers are waiting outside, take command — your rank and agency make no difference at this point. If you issue commands, almost every cop will snap to and follow your lead. “Follow me” are the two most powerful words in the English language when issued by a bold leader.

All indications point to an increase in mass killings. If the ISIS terrorists get their way, such attacks will be common in the United States. Going in alone against heavily armed jihadists is the most dangerous task any officer will ever face. If you aren’t ready for that day, then heed the words of my friend and nationally recognized SWAT trainer “Big” Ed Mohn: “Train hard, for the day will come!”

Dick Fairburn has had more than 26 years of law enforcement experience in both Illinois and Wyoming. He has worked patrol, investigations and administration assignments. Dick has also served as a Criminal Intelligence Analyst, and as the Section Chief of a major academy’s Firearms Training Unit and Critical Incident Training program.