Columbine Lesson: Cops Trained to Rush in, Not Wait, in School Crisis

Nicholas K. Geranios, The Associated Press

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) -- The first report that a person with a handgun was inside Lewis and Clark High School arrived at 11:10 a.m. Within 14 minutes, officers had rushed inside the building and trapped the gunman in a third-floor science classroom.

"That's not bad," Police Chief Roger Bragdon said after Monday's incident that left the student gunman critically wounded.

Horrified by the massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, police in Spokane and other cities no longer move cautiously when approaching a potential school shooting situation.

Instead, the first officers on the scene are trained to charge to the scene of danger and take control.

"They find the shooter as fast as they can and either contain the shooter or eliminate the threat," Bragdon said.

Known as Aggressive Shooter Response, the policy took hold after law enforcement officers were widely criticized for taking too long to study and evaluate the danger inside Columbine before moving in on April 20, 1999.

At Columbine, a school resource officer exchanged gunfire with Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris shortly after the pair started their shooting spree, then withdrew from the building. Two SWAT teams entered the school about a half hour later, but pulled back.

Klebold and Harris killed 12 students and a teacher before committing suicide. Police did not declare the school under control until more than four hours after the shooting began.

With approximately 2,000 potential victims at the Spokane high school, there was no time to gather and evaluate information, Bragdon said. There was also no time to wait for special SWAT teams.

Instead, regular street cops now carry rifles in their patrol cars that give them the firepower to immediately engage barricaded gunmen, the chief said.

After Columbine, Spokane school officials shared floor plans with police.

In this case, students and staff were still evacuating the building when the first officers rushed in. Officers cornered the student inside the same classroom where the boy had fired a shot into a wall and ordered the teacher and other students to leave.

Officers talked with the 17-year-old male student for more than an hour.

"He was angry at everything. He was making threats about everything," Bragdon said. "We have no idea as to the motive."

At one point, "he stopped talking, put on a jacket and pulled a gun from his (pants) pocket," Bragdon said.

The student was shot by a SWAT officer and rushed to a hospital.

Bragdon praised staff at Lewis and Clark for quickly evacuating the school by pulling a fire alarm, rather than locking down the school with people inside.

While many school districts adopted metal detectors after school shootings that included Columbine, the Spokane school district did not.

Superintendent Brian Benzel said the district relies on faculty, staff and other students to watch for trouble.

There are no plans to change that policy, and Bragdon added he would not like to see metal detectors in schools.

The district's plan for dealing with a school crisis also saw 35 school buses show up within 10 minutes to transport students to a nearby arena. The students were gone by the time the standoff ended, Benzel said.

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