When violence erupts: 6 considerations for cops in a large-scale critical incident

Active killer incidents and other large-scale mass-casualty events are sudden — you need to get ready with tactics and tools to help get you through a very, very long day

Despite what may be in the news right now, America is, by the numbers, a safe place. The weekly spree killings and officer murders are statistical anomalies — like winning the lottery.

The difference, of course, is that with the lottery your number doesn’t come up unless you play your number. With violence, you are in the game whether you want to be or not. Most of those reading this article are in the game by choice.

Here are some things to remember for the day your number comes up.

1. Be ready for a long operation. It was a cold November in Colorado when I got called in on a robbery with hostages. When I got to the staging area I was wearing my thermal underwear, carrying a sleeping bag, and had a Thermos of hot chocolate under my coat.

I’d learned from an earlier ordeal to prepare for at least a 12-hour shift with no relief from a post. For your climate, that may mean having a coat even if you’re working a sunny day shift or sunscreen if you’re on midnights. Have on hand a granola bar, batteries for your flashlight, radio, cell phone, etc. A couple of bottles of water are also essential.

2. Be ready to stay put. You’ll find officers from agencies you didn’t know existed are at your scene. Holding a position with combat worthy cover is usually best practice. Movement is confusing to perpetrators and fellow officers as well.

Certainly there are moments of individual judgement, but whenever a scene can be stabilized with an incident commander to direct a unified strategy, independent action may jeopardize the success of the mission.

3. Know your radio. Your regular channel will be flooded. Can you get to the operation channel without looking down at your radio? Use good judgement when taking up precious air time. Getting out intel on harmers and victims is critical. Narrating your actions may not be. Listening is likely going to be most beneficial.

Having a good quality earpiece that can survive a running dive can keep you from fumbling blindly for your equipment. Everything on your person should be jiggle-proof to avoid the reflexive action of stopping to pick up something you dropped.

4. Keep a paranoid amount of ammo. We know that most active shooter incidents are over in minutes. But some are not. Protracted gunfire from a shooter may require the use of cover fire – something for which few civilian cops are trained. Throwing a lot of lead is only an option if you have it accessible. No one wants to be at a gunfight with a $700 paper weight. An extra pistol or two wouldn’t hurt either.

5. Think about what is in the trunk that you wish you had with you. Patrol officers carry about 30 pounds of gear. The rest you leave in the car which may be a half mile away from your position. Do you have a good portable system for taking your trauma first aid pack, extra magazines, and any other rescue resources with you to your position?

Study after action reports (and the comments hopefully added below) to learn what you might need in an instant. A mountain rescue team in my area recently learned of the need for duct tape to be on hand for securing a patient to be lifted by cable to a helicopter.

6. Prepare for self-care. Breathe. Let your loved ones know you’re not going to be able to answer phone calls and texts while on scene. Don’t be distracted by their concern for you. Have your plans in place for them. Move your joints without leaving cover so that you can move suddenly without cramping. Stay positive. Be a team player. 

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