Solo officers vs. active killers: Officers speak out

From Force Science News
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Ohio Trainer Ron Borsch’s advocacy of single-officer entries into active shooter sites touched off an unprecedented volume of responses to Force Science News.

Other reactions, intensely pro or con, appeared on Police1, the strategic partner of the Force Science Research Center. [Read the article]

Nearly 70% of readers who expressed an opinion to FSN agreed with Borsch’s solo-officer approach. Here’s a representative sampling of responses, edited for brevity and clarity. The writers are expressing their personal opinions and not necessarily the official views of their agencies.

Where does duty lie?

Back in “Da Day” when we saw police service as a vocation, not just a benefits package, and most of us had prior military service, we accepted that this was a contact sport, and it was our duty to protect the public. We also were more accepting of death and injury as part of the job.

Today it’s acceptable to many officers to say, “The most important thing is that I get home unharmed. As for the public, well, I’ll do what I can.”

I witnessed the change in thinking and tactics back in the late 80’s when I was working in a district on Chicago’s Far West Side. A captain at roll call and said, “Nobody in this district is worth you losing your life or job.” I was shocked and never forgot that roll call.

I have continued to ignore it because it is more important for me to protect the public. If I am a casualty in that effort, that would be unfortunate for me and my family, but this is the life I have chosen and my wife knew it when we married.

If my loved ones were in a building under siege while armed officers wearing bullet-resistant vests waited outside for SWAT or reinforcements, I would be OUTRAGED and when the smoke settled, lawsuits would follow.

--Sgt. Rick Aztlan
Mass Transit Unit, Chicago PD

Why stop at active-shooter calls for single-officer entries?

We train and expect our officers to return home at night. I too feel we are duty-bound for a quick response but not at the needless expense of our own lives by throwing proven tactics out the window.

If you expect a single patrolman to address the active-shooter threat alone then why wouldn’t you expect him to stop a domestic assault alone or an armed robber alone? Patrol is trained as it should be to wait for backup. Officers in our agency will be on scene in less than 2 minutes. They can be breaching the stronghold within 4 minutes.

I recommend that we provide our officers with more options such as basic SWAT tactics, vests, helmets and breaching tools. If the officers at Virginia Tech had breaching tools or even been through my active-shooter course they wouldn’t have taken 5 minutes to breach the building. Our agency is going a step further by having explosive breachers for the patrol division on the street!

I teach a Response to Active Shooter course that soon will be 40 hours long. Since Columbine, the IACP and others feel that providing a rifle and 8 hours of training will remedy the active-shooter problem. That’s merely a band aid. I fear this won’t change until our officers get slaughtered by an active shooter.

--Sgt. Glenn French
Sterling Heights (MI) PD

A fatal error that may cost officer lives

Borsch makes a fatal error by advocating that 1 officer rush in as a lone unit. SWAT operators train more than any road patrol deputy, yet we do not let a single officer enter a room alone for a second, let alone clear a room alone. Imagine that single officer now clearing a school alone for 2, 3, 4 minutes.

We would do a great disservice if we place all active shooters in the box Borsch has come up with. What may start as an active shooter, or what we may perceive as such, very well may be a terrorist act. Now you’ve just sent 1 officer to face an unknown number of assailants and bombs, booby traps and whatever else they have time to set up prior to actively shooting innocent people.

Just a few of the faults I found with his research:

• He says 98% of active killers act alone. But keep in mind the “ +1 rule” that is taught throughout all of our training.

• If a lone officer should go down, he has just provided the shooter with more weapons and rounds, thus making the situation worse.

• Keep in mind the average road patrol deputy’s likely hit ratio when on the move from more than 15 yards out, while being fired upon and with no backup.

• A lone officer is prone to being ambushed since he would not know exactly where the shooter is located, while the shooter is in known territory and has a pretty good idea of where to position himself for surprise.

In Borsch’s own research, he states that he has found no evidence of any LEO in the U.S. being wounded or killed in an active shooter incident, yet he advocates changing the standard practice, which has proven successful in keeping our fellow officers alive. By adopting Borsch’s suggestions, the officer body counts may very well begin.

--Cpl. Garry Schettini
Training Bureau, Palm Beach County (FL) SO

A head shot ASAP

Ron Borsch’s message is right on target. Far from advanced tactics, his stuff is common sense. Any chief, commissioner, sheriff, or other executive officer who would blink at single-officer entry needs to re-evaluate.

Many of us are fathers and mothers of children. My thought in responding to an active shooter at a school, mall, or anywhere else is hunting down and head-shooting this predator as quickly as humanly possible. If I do have the luxury of backup, they’d better keep up if they’re going to beat me to him!

--Lt. Shannon West
Kentucky State Police

Cowboy tactics

There is no need to enter a building alone when the next officer will likely be on scene within seconds. In an incident at a high school in my area over 40 agencies arrived within the first 20 minutes. With officers encouraged to enter alone, you will have numerous single officers moving through open corridors only to round a corner on another gun-wielding officer. The chances of being struck by friendly fire would probably be higher than being struck by the active shooter.

Borsch referred to solid tactics such as slicing the pie but doesn’t state that there are many intersections you may need to move through where you could not slice the pie without exposing yourself to another open area.

I do not believe you should ever enter a building in an active-shooter scenario with less than 2 officers and preferably 4 officers. It is just not tactically sound. We do not want to teach our officers to be cowboys. There are too many dead cowboys.

--Sgt. Peter Forth
Schenectady (NY) PD Training Unit

Armed classrooms?

I totally agree with single-officer response. But what stone is it engraved in that only cops should be armed to meet criminal violence? Train and arm a certain number of teachers. Translated: instant and effective response!

--Sgt. Jimmy Johnson
Dickson County (TN) Sheriff's Office

Empower the “victims”

A shooter could be foiled by empowered “victims” who have a better plan than to sit in a room and wait for either the cops or a murderer to come through the door. A retired Texas cop named Greg Crane and another officer have put together a program called “Response Options” to teach trainers who can teach civilians about ways to improve their chances to survive an active-shooter incident in schools and workplaces before the police arrive. Take a look at their website:

--Sgt. Richard A. Nester
Ohio State University Police—Wooster

Underestimating your opponent

Ron Borsch’s research says a number of things to me:

1. Active shooters are heavily armed, yet there appears to be a trend to send lightly armed police against offenders who are determined to kill and already have the mind-set that they’re going to rack up a body count before they go down.

2. Borsch says these offenders have little or no training. Yet the 2 shooters at Columbine had spent hours on “shoot ’em up” video games, one of the most cost effective and efficient training tools available today. These games get a person used to acquiring a sight picture, shooting and watching a target fall with all the associated blood that goes with it.

3. Borsch talks about active shooters typically folding quickly upon armed confrontation. But how much evidence is there that this trend will continue into the future? And that the persons involved will not attempt to gain further notoriety, which is what they’re really after in the first place, by taking out some half-trained cop?

It appears that Borsch has already stereotyped these offenders. History is resplendent with stories where someone has underestimated an opponent with dire results. If you take this attitude into your training it could eventually lead to your students winding up dead.

--Stephen Manning
Operational safety trainer—firearms
Sydney, Australia

“I’m torn between 2 options”

As a school resource officer of a 2,300 student suburban high school, what will I do in an active incident? I really don’t know because I’m torn between 2 options: 1) I can be a huge asset to responding officers because I know the layout of the school, potential hiding places, how to quickly and effectively clear and isolate an area, etc. and therefore should wait and take a leading role; or 2) go and engage the threat on my own since I will be potentially minutes ahead of other responders.

The reaction I get from most officers is that I’m crazy for thinking of engaging the threat alone. I tell them that I would be in a much better position than the average patrol officer due to my knowledge of the school and that I would have a hard time waiting, knowing that the shooter was killing students and I was in a position, at a minimum, to slow him/her down. I don't know that I could live with myself if I put my safety above the students’.

This is the main reason I choose to wear my uniform, vest, and all duty gear at my school. My only concern with going it alone is that I do not have access to a long gun. This is a matter I plan on addressing with my department administration.

--Ofcr. Ben Johnson
Blaine (MN) PD

SROs: Immediately move to the problem

Tradition is our administrative enemy. I can’t imagine being an SRO inside a school when shooting breaks out down the hall, then standing there doing nothing while waiting for backup. The SRO should immediately move to the problem and initiate intervention. If that’s OK (and it is), then certainly it’s OK for the first arriving patrol officer to enter and initiate intervention.

The more voices there are in this regard, the sooner we’ll all get on board. Yet some agencies are still not on board even with a group entry by patrol officers.

--Cmdr. Kyle Sumpter
Primary lethal force instructor
Federal Way (WA) PD

“Beyond the average officer’s capabilities”

Among several reasons I believe single-officer tactics won’t work is that the overall readiness of most officers is pretty low. A lot are overweight and out of shape. Most don’t have the right mind-set when we go in service. High-risk concepts like one-person entry are above and beyond the average officer’s capabilities.

--Sgt. Eddie Brock
San Diego County (CA) SD

35-year perspective

I started in this business in 1973 when SWAT didn’t exist in my area, an officer with a rusty Remington 870 and a six-shooter was expected to take care of whatever happened, and a single-officer response was expected in any active-shooter situations. I still believe that an armed and willing officer has a better chance against an armed bad guy than most kids and unarmed citizens. If I can’t get ’em all, at least I can improve the odds.

--Sgt. Gary Wilson
Fort Worth (TX) PD

Tactics based on flawed assumptions

Ron Borsch is out of his tree. If he feels that law enforcement is not able to safely assemble a 3-4 officer contact team in an efficient and timely manner then maybe he should view it is a problem that law enforcement cannot solve or respond to. His tactics are based on what appear to be assumptions that a lone dedicated killer is not willing to fight and murder law enforcement. Hopefully none of the officers who were “trained” in these tactics will ever have to use them.

--Training Ofcr. Joe Villalobos
Racine (WI) PD

SWAT is 90 miles away

Our department, serving a small town of 3,800, has a grand total of 8 officers. Most of the time we have a maximum of 2 on the street, sometimes only 1. During the day, adding administrators, the total officers in the county who could respond from other agencies, including game wardens, swells to probably 20. The nearest full time SWAT team is 90 miles away. We have long ago determined that we would make entry and search out active shooters without delay.

--Chief W. E. Lattimore
Eagle Lake (TX) PD

“I once fought for 22 minutes before backup arrived”

My backup is usually 5-10 minutes away on a good day. I once fought with a subject for 22 minutes before backup arrived, despite alerting dispatch with an officer-in-distress call.

Our department policy encourages single-officer response in an active-shooter situation and my officers are trained and equipped to respond appropriately.

--Chief Ken McLaughlin
Ocean View (DE) PD

A case for greater firepower on the streets

I plan on using the article to confront the Chief to support my argument for greater fire power on the streets. I am concerned with sending an officer into a situation that he/she is not equipped to handle. Officers throughout the country should be trained on and issued patrol rifles (.223 M-4), shotguns and handguns. They need to understand the limitations of a 9mm, .40-cal. or .357 handgun when facing a subject who has a rifle.

FBI statistics for officer-involved shootings show that officers only hit 18% of what they shoot at in high stress situations. This is probably the result of an officer’s reliance on the handgun. I believe the sidearm is nothing more than a final line of defense in a deadly force situation involving an officer.

Our training and equipment must evolve to meet modern threats. Otherwise, we must face the fact that officer fatalities will rise.

--Capt. Bruce Moreau
Pawtucket (RI) PD

A word from the one at the heart of the controversy

Great responses! But for some, a reality check is needed.

With an active killer, we have a firm but unknown deadline. Time has forced us to choose: Either an officer places himself at risk, or the officer plays safe while children and/or other victims are left to the will of the murderer. There is NO time-out; the killing will go on without us. Average time, 8 minutes. The record is one innocent shot every 8 seconds! No one should need reminding that officer safety does NOT supercede citizen safety.

Some do not seem to be aware that more solo civilians (armed and unarmed) have successfully aborted rapid mass-murder than have the police. The only successful aborts by police have been SOLO officers, 2-officers, and (pre-Columbine) 3 officers. The theory of an organized multiple-man formation has yet to make its mark in reality.

--Ron Borsch
SEALE Academy
Bedford, OH

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