Roundtable: What has LE learned about event security 5 years after the Las Vegas shooting?

Even if a detailed plan for every contingency isn’t possible, just having the idea of what might happen can lessen the shock and improve response


By Police1 Staff

As we approach the 5th anniversary of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, Police1 asked columnists to share their views on progress made by law enforcement regarding event security and mass shooting response. 

What has your agency done to address event security training and tactics in the five years since the Las Vegas Route 91 Harvest Festival shooting? Email editor@police1.com.

In this Oct. 1, 2019, file photo, people pray at a makeshift memorial for shooting victims in Las Vegas on the anniversary of the mass shooting.
In this Oct. 1, 2019, file photo, people pray at a makeshift memorial for shooting victims in Las Vegas on the anniversary of the mass shooting. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Situational awareness and intelligence dissemination

It has been five years since the Las Vegas shooting and, unfortunately, we have seen several active shooters since then. 

After the event, there seemed to be an initial push to have officers refreshed in intelligence gathering, prevention strategies and response to such incidents. As well-intentioned as that was, we continue to make the same mistakes in interpreting situational awareness and intelligence dissemination and analysis. We still need to be diligent in evaluating situations and events before they happen and to test response protocols at the immediate responder level.

Progress was made in at least one attempt to reduce the availability of methods used by the Harvest Festival killer. The killer used “bump stocks” on some of his weapons, arguably making them dispense ammunition similarly to that from an “automatic machine gun.” Then President Trump called for a federal ban on bump stocks, which many distributors voluntarily removed from public sales. In 2022, the legislation was upheld by the federal court.

— James Dudley, deputy chief (ret.), San Francisco Police Department

Response delays, criminal justice priorities

The problem I see with some agencies, not all, is that it seems many are resorting back to a slower SWAT-like response to active shooter training and during their active shooter response. This gives the mass murderer time to pile up the dead. These agencies are not taking cues from the many examples of courageous officers and even civilians who have risked all to "ride to the sound of the guns" and immediately stop the threat with a decisive armed intervention. 

When it comes to the courts and the mental health professionals protecting communities from dangerous predators, our nation is suffering even more greatly than five years ago. Even after officers identify and arrest a suspect who is presenting an imminent threat to their community, the priority in the criminal justice system and the mental health system these days is for them to be released back into the community, which facilitates their desire to either gun down innocents or drive over parade-goers. It is enough to boggle the mind.

Lt. Dan Marcou, police trainer with 33 years of law enforcement experience

The pandemic effect

I believe most departments were tracking well in preparing for special event response but then COVID hit, and agencies stopped training in person. Agencies also stopped training with large venue providers in their respective areas due to the pandemic.

Agencies must immediately start training in person with their large venue partners. Training that took place prior to the pandemic, although better than nothing, is not completely applicable today. Current staffing levels at both the local law enforcement level and most large venues are down significantly, so training under these new staff level conditions is vital to planning for safe events. Agencies must also begin to utilize technology as much as possible in planning for safe large events, especially under the current staffing level climate.   

— Booker Hodges, Bloomington Police Chief, Minnesota

Every voice should be heard

Bob Ebeling was one of five rocket engineers who tried to stop the 1986 Challenger space shuttle launch. They knew the cold temperatures could affect the fuel seals and that an explosion would result if the seals failed. They told you so.

Before the 9/11 WTC attack, a flight instructor in Minnesota repeatedly urged the FBI to investigate a foreign student who wanted to learn to fly a 747 but was evasive about his background. Similar reports came from an Arizona flight school. They told you so.

There were many times before I became an official leader that I saw potential problems with certain tactics or events, but no one was willing to listen to my low-status self then they suffered the very result I wanted to warn about. I could have told them so.

The Route 91 assault may have had no one frantically raising their hand to warn about the killer’s plan. In fact, it may be one of the more rare cases where no one did or could foresee what he was up to. But in the larger sense, when planning event safety, every voice should be heard and every potential should be given at least a moment of thought. Even if a detailed plan for every contingency isn’t possible, just having the idea of what might happen can lessen the shock and improve response. Sometimes when we think we are thinking outside the box we are only thinking inside a slightly bigger box. That rookie may just have something to say.

— Joel Shults, chief of police (ret.), Colorado

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