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What it takes to get active shooter response right

When responding to an active shooter incident, you need the right stuff, you need to take out the right target and you need to address the threat right now


Boulder Police SWAT team members walk across campus at Boulder High School to search the school on Thursday, May 10, 2007.

AP Photo/Ed Andrieski

One of my favorite experiences at SHOT Show is attending the LEEP sessions, where officers learn the latest tactics from leading industry training organizations like the National Tactical Officer Association (NTOA).

NTOA’s Don Alwes and Chris Periatt did not disappoint in their active shooter update session. They addressed how police active shooter response and tactics have evolved in the 20 years since the Columbine high school shooting, when the accepted law enforcement response to an active shooter incident was for officers to wait for SWAT to enter and secure the scene in the traditional diamond formation.

Much has changed since then, with police tactics evolving to train officers to push to make contact and neutralize an active shooter with whatever manpower is available, whether that be 1, 2 or 3 officers. Because the average event stops when the shooter is confronted, immediate intervention is critical.

As Don and Chris point out, officers must stop the killing first before rescuing and treating victims. While most incidents involve only one shooter, it is possible to have multiple shooters so that must be considered in your response.

The Parkland school shooting may not have been a shining example of active shooter response, as this Police1 article points out, but there are some great examples of heroes stepping up during active killer attacks.

Active shooter heroes and Good Samaritans

Great Mills High School SRO deputy Blaine Gaskill addressed the threat almost immediately and shot the attacker, who then turned his gun on himself and fired one fatal shot to his head.

In one of the strangest cases, a mom 700 miles away may have stopped a Kentucky shooting because she saw something and said something. A 21-year-old man who Koeberle Bull had never met started insulting her children, who are biracial, by calling them offensive racial slurs. Worst of all, he wished that they were dead. Bull did some Facebook sleuthing and called police in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, about the threats. That tip led authorities to the 21-year-old a day later, when they found he had a gun, 200 rounds of ammunition, a bullet-resistant vest and a detailed plan to attack a school. He lived yards away from Anderson County High School.

In this Police1 article, Patrick Van Horne talks about how being “left of bang” can, like Ms. Bull, help identify pre-event indicators with enough time to be proactive and stop the threat. Unfortunately, too many people see something but are afraid to say something for fear of being alarmist.

Note that in the active shooter incidents mentioned above, there is one glaring omission. The name of the shooter is missing. The Don’t Name Them campaign is a coordinated effort by the ALERRT Center at Texas State University, the I Love U Guys Foundation and the FBI to minimize the “glory” that active shooters seek by not naming them or sharing their manifesto. This same “no name” practice was followed in this NTOA presentation.

There also have been several cases of Good Samaritans who worked to stop a shooter being taken out by law enforcement, including blue on blue events. A few examples are the Chicago-area security guard, Prince George’s County’s Detective Jacai Colson and Emantic Fitzgerald Bradford Jr., who was killed at an Alabama mall – and there are too many more. Can this be addressed? The NTOA thinks it can.

The right stuff

First, do you have the right staff on board? Will your personnel react in Parkland style or in the style of School Resource Officer Carolyn Gudger when she confronted a shooter at Sullivan Central High School?

Do you have the right training? Many departments are moving to virtual training systems to create the most realistic training possible. Do you have a designated marksman program in place in case you need a higher level of accuracy to stop a threat?

Do you have the right equipment? What do your officers need to get the job done? Do you rely only on shotguns, only on patrol rifles, or do you have both in your patrol cars so that officers can choose the right tool? While most patrol rifles are fine with 5.56mm, maybe you want your designated marksmen to run 7.62mm/.308. Have you looked into the use of red dot sights for officers who may not be able to focus on the front sight?

In San Francisco, citizens complain that officers draw their firearms much too often but won’t allow them to carry TASERs. Maybe your department is setting limitations that are preventing officers from being more efficient in doing their jobs.

The right one

When you arrive on scene, do you rush in with adrenaline pumping, or do you stop at a threshold to run through your OODA loop so you ensure you target the right assailant? The Force Science Institute says you need to slow down to let your brain catch up and process what your eyes are seeing. If virtual or live fire training sessions result in blue-on-blue, you are moving too fast.

Can you see or hear the threat? Are you behind cover so you have time to assess the threat by doing a whole-body scan rather than just looking at the hands for a gun? Are you actually seeing the threat, or are you seeing a brother or sister who is off-duty or in plainclothes, leading to a tragic blue-on-blue shooting? Are you seeing a Good Samaritan who has already neutralized the threat? Not everyone with a gun is a threat and before pulling that trigger, you need to ensure you have the right target.

Right now

When it hits the fan, how quickly and accurately can you respond with what you have on you, and not what will take you time to search for in your trunk? Sure, a good storage system can help, but if time is critical or you cannot get to the trunk, you’ll be responding with what’s on your body and perhaps what you can grab from the center console, glove box, or the GO bag on the seat next to you.

Several of the officers with my local PD have bleed kits slung over the patrol rifle so it is second-nature to grab both when exiting the car.

How about rolling while dispatch is still taking calls? Smartphone apps can link to your agency’s CAD (computer-aided dispatch) system to show you incoming 911 calls before they are answered, which can give you early notice of an event.

If you suddenly see a call cluster, it might be time to get going before dispatch gets on the radio. Don’t go rogue though! Agencies should have a discussion about how to leverage your CAD to see if it’s a good idea or not. On the other hand, an officer listening to a neighboring city’s channel self-dispatched and saved a citizen’s life during the YouTube shooting.


The NTOA presented the most current thinking every agency needs to have the right staff, the right equipment and the right training. When arriving on scene, officers need to take the time to ensure that they have the right threat. And finally, precious minutes can be shaved off response times if officers have access to the latest information. What are your thoughts on these topics? Comments are welcome!

Ron LaPedis is an NRA-certified Chief Range Safety Officer, NRA, USCCA and California DOJ-certified instructor, is a uniformed first responder, and frequently writes and speaks on law enforcement, business continuity, cybersecurity, physical security and public/private partnerships.

He has been recognized as a Fellow of the Business Continuity Institute (FBCI), a Distinguished Fellow of the Ponemon Institute, Master Business Continuity Professional (MBCP), and a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP).

Contact Ron LaPedis