A decade after Columbine we're still learning, teaching
I remember sitting in the LETN newsroom ten years ago, scanning the early reports of a terrible shooting in a high school in Colorado. It seemed to me like a Stephen King novel had come to life. What strange demonic forces were at work in the Denver suburb of Littleton? What on Earth was happening?
The news reports were ominous and getting worse every minute as the feeds came in from the reporters. Back then, LETN was a CNN affiliate so our staff was hunkered down, trying to gather facts from speculation, deciding whether on not to go “live” on air.
A year later, I went to Columbine High School (as did hundreds of other people from television stations from around the world) to report in person on the first anniversary of that tragic event. Unlike the other reporters, I was sitting with heroes from the Littleton SWAT team and going over their remarkable story and lessons learned from the paradigm-changing crisis they had endured. Needless to say, the other reporters were not happy when the Littleton Warriors refused to comment to them; they had come to tell their stories to their brothers and sisters in law enforcement.
Today, the story of Columbine has become the seminal event that started us all asking ourselves, "What should we do when there is no negotiation, no time for a Command Post, no time even for a full Tactical Deployment?" Immediately following the tragedy, the debate about the active shooter had begun in earnest and rightfully still does to this day. It is this debate that has sharpened the edge of the law enforcement response, improved the odds of patrol being able to terminate a threat quickly, and lead to a whole new generation of patrol-friendly tactical gear.
Thank this debate for elevating our awareness and preparation. If you have a “go bag,” a patrol carbine or rifle, and training in ad hoc team formation and response to active shooters, thank this debate. The horror of Columbine and all the other acts of violence and inhumanity that have followed (and will continue) should never leave our collective memories. The innocent are our precious concern and their safety and ours depends on our constantly seeking to be better trained, equipped, and prepared for the next time…and there will be next time.
I think of Jeff Chudwin, Al Baker, Ron McCarthy, Bob Weber, John Meyer, and myriad trainers and experts too many to mention in this short essay, who have given their hearts and souls to improving our ability to respond to these horrific events. I am reminded of the administrators who supported their men and women by demanding equipment and providing the training that swept our profession since that heartbreaking plot unfolding ten years ago.
We are not done yet though.
Columbine wasn’t the first, but it was a tipping point that created a firestorm of ideas, solutions, arguments, experiments, and changes. We know law enforcement must be a learning profession, constantly adapting and preparing for the next violent scenario to unfold.
I hope the one lesson you personally learned from the story of Columbine is YOU may hold the key to stopping the next horror. I don’t know what Officer Justin Garner of the Carthage, North Carolina Police Department was thinking when he rushed into a nursing home to stop a rampaging shooter, but I like to think he was responding with the training he had gotten based, in part, on the lessons learned from Columbine.