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Training theories related to active-shooter incident response

If officers do not practice in multiple-officer response, they will not function cohesively while under stress

Since the tragedy at Columbine in 1999, many theories and tactics have emerged on how law enforcement should respond to such an incident.

Initially, we looked to military tactics — as we often do — and came up with the “quad” or “diamond” formation. This formation was derived from the military wedge formation and is used when the enemy strength and position is unknown. It provides maximum firepower to the front and flanks as the unit moves through a danger zone.

This formation served as law enforcements initial answer of how to get a group of officers on scene and move to contact in a swift and efficient manner and many agencies still subscribe to this model.

The Multiple-Officer Response
As time passed, some agencies began to modify the wedge and fashioned the “T” formation. This hybrid wedge formation performed the same objective as the quad/diamond formation, but instead of having the flanks trailing slightly behind the point officer the flanks were brought up abreast of the point officer to better protect the point as they crossed danger areas such as open doors or hallways. There are also variations as to areas of responsibility for team members. Most everyone agrees that the point should be responsible for the area to the front and the rear guard covering the area to the rear.

The deviation is with the flanking officers. Some subscribe to the cross coverage of each of the flanking officers, whereby the right flank covers the openings to the left and the left flank covers the open areas to the right. While this provides the flanking officers with a wider field of view when approaching openings, it leaves the point officer in a precarious position if one or both of those officers have to engage a lethal threat. The other option — and the preferred method, in my view — is to have the flanks provide security to their respective sides and eliminate the possibility of “friendly fire.”

The assigned areas of responsibility within this “T” formation allow for 360-degree security and uses the hours of the clock as an analogy:

Point: 10-2
Right Flank: 2-5
Rear Guard: 5-7
Left Flank: 7-10

As the numbers of officers are removed from the formation, the areas of responsibility are increased and it becomes exceedingly more difficult as well as dangerous for the Officers as they move past unsecured areas.

The Single-Officer Response
In the past few years, there has been a great deal of talk about the single officer response. Proponents have argued that these types of incidents are dynamic and short lived. They state that these types of incidents put innocent lives at risk while the officer waits for other officers to arrive.

That the perpetrators of these types of attacks are often of the “lone wolf” variety and take their own lives upon the first inclination that law enforcement has arrived on the scene. They have conducted studies to back up their assertions stating that either civilians or single officers are the ones who have been responsible for bringing some of these incidents to an end before more lives would have been lost. Further, law enforcement officers are better trained and equipped then their adversaries.

While there are many truths to their testaments, there are also some assumptions that pose an increased risk to the solo-officer arriving at the scene. Many of the solo-officers that prematurely terminated some of these incidents did so at a cost and did not come out unharmed.

There is no disagreement that at times a single officer has to take decisive action, even at the risk of his own life, to save the lives of innocents. When officers are called to this type of perilous event no options should be taken off the table, but to embrace the single officer response as your primary answer to an active shooter incident, leaves your officer(s) at a significant disadvantage.

Benefits of Training in Teams
Officers are generally not accustomed to working as a team, unless they are part of a specialized unit. We would probably all agree that the first officers to arrive at the scene of an active shooter will be patrol officers, traffic, and maybe some plain clothes.

Most assuredly, these officers do not train together in team tactics. They have to be taught team tactics and more importantly, they have to practice team tactics. The tactics learned during a joint response can be applied to a one, two, three, or more officer response. This does not necessarily hold true when conducting singular officer response training.

Some of the tactics taught for a multiple-officer response are the same as a single officer response — quick peeks, cutting the pie (cornering), limited Israeli, moving and shooting. During a single-officer response, the officer does not have to worry about communicating and coordinating with other officers, but they do have to be conscious of their entire 360-degree environment as they move through their lethal surroundings. As more officers are added to the formation, the coordination and communication become all that much more critical. If officers do not practice in multiple-officer response, they will not function cohesively while under stress. This will add to the confusion and chaos during their response.

We must recognize that these types of incidents carry a priority of life; hostages, innocents, officers, perpetrators. We realize, as law enforcement officers, that we took an oath to serve and protect and that our lives are placed in jeopardy to protect the lives of the innocent.

However, that does not mean we have to be sacrificial lambs led to the slaughter. If we take a moment to assess the situation, gather intelligence, present a unified force and assault with a strategic advantage, we may be able to save others lives while protecting our own. Train with the best practices from a variety of responses — be it one, two, three, or more officers.

The advantages of training as a multi-officer response will carry over to any number of officers — the single officer theory may not. Regardless, we have a responsibility to ourselves, our families, our fellow officers and our communities to prepare for every contingency and to prevail in all!

Dan Danaher is a retired sergeant with 28 years of law enforcement experience. He has been retained by his former agency as the range master to oversee the firearms and TASER programs. Dan is also the co-founder of Tactical Encounters Inc., a law enforcement training company based out of Michigan.