Rapid Response: 5 lessons for police from the Umpqua College massacre
Work with your communities to educate them on their role in preventing (and responding to) active killer incidents — and review your own training to ensure you are confident in your response plan
What Happened: In the southwest corner of Oregon — just outside a town called Roseburg — a gunman unleashed a hail of gunfire on a classroom in Snyder Hall, on the campus of Umpqua Community College. It appears at present that the shooter used a long gun of some kind to kill nine, and injure numerous others. The 26-year-old shooter has been confirmed dead.
Why it’s Significant: This is significant simply because it offers the reminder — although none is really necessary — that this kind of thing can happen anywhere. The “It can’t happen here” mentality must be finally and permanently discarded everywhere. Roseburg is an old logging town nestled in the Cascade Mountains with a population of around 22,000 citizens.
According to available crime data, there were two total murders in Roseburg between 2001 to 2011. This may sound a little like the quiet, small town you patrol. If so, and you’ve heard local elected officials utter that “it can’t happen here” line when you talk about active shooter training, you now have another opportunity to counter their argument.
Top Takeaways: At the time of this writing (only hours after the incident) much remains unknown, but here are the top takeaways for law enforcement:
1. In the tactical response, speed trumps all else. The faster the shooter can be engaged by someone who is trained in effective armed response, the fewer the casualties are likely to be. Armed campus security (and — when trained by law enforcement firearms trainers — teachers and other school staff) can be enormously helpful in stopping active killers. School shooters don’t stop voluntarily. Most gunmen who attack a school do so with no intention of living through the experience. In the case of Umpqua Community College today, rapidly responding law enforcement officers — who by all accounts were very quickly on scene — engaged the gunman and he killed himself. That end could have been accomplished just as easily by a trained, armed teacher.
2. Educate citizens on the five phases of the active shooter — fantasy, planning, preparation, approach, and implementation. There are reports — as yet unconfirmed — that on the night before the attack, the shooter told friends what he planned to do. There are also unconfirmed reports that someone had posted the warning “Don’t go to school tomorrow in the northwest” on an anonymous online messageboard. There are almost always warning signs which indicate such desire and planning. Intervention prior to the attack phase is the most effective means of stopping the killing before it starts.
3. Having a plan in place can help the response. Certain observations — albeit from afar — indicate that police and educators had some level of preparation. Very quickly the students who survived the attack were transported by school bus to a safe zone several miles away — there they were reunited with friends and family. Perhaps on-scene commanders called an audible on that — and if so, great job! — but that maneuver has all the hallmarks of already being in the playbook.
4. “Gun Free Zones” don’t work. Roseburg Councilwoman Victoria Hawks told FOX News, “This is a gun-free campus,” and when asked if students are scanned for weapons she replied, “No, no.” Posting placards and issuing policy statements declaring a facility a gun free zone does absolutely nothing from keeping a gunman with villainous intent from gaining access, and wreaking havoc in a hail of gunfire. Even if there are sensitive metal detectors at the access points, those are typically monitored by unarmed individuals — who would simply become the first victims.
5. Feed the beast — or the beast will feed on you. In the media frenzy that invariably follows such an event, taking your time and issuing statements only when facts are solid as stone must be balanced with the press and the public who are hungry for information. Allowing them to get all their “news” from Twitter is not optimal. Preface your statements with “This information is preliminary, and upon discovering the facts of the case, this may change, but here’s what we have at this time…” You do not have to be Tweeting every five minutes, but you do have to have a plan for disseminating information to the media.
What’s Next: It is imperative that we law enforcement redouble our efforts to work with the community to harden soft targets (like schools and college campuses) against this sort of attack. This sort of thing will happen again. Work with your communities to educate them on their role in preventing (and responding to) active killer incidents — and review your own training and policy to ensure you are confident in your response plan before you need it.
Once again — as has been the case so many times following tragedy — the anti-gun lobby will shout about gun-control. Don’t take the bait. Stay focused on what we in law enforcement know to be important. Protect your communities and watch out for each other. Don’t let the noise of that rhetoric distract you from your mission. Stay safe out there my brothers and sisters.
Further Reading: Here are some additional resources for your consideration.
Active shooters in schools: Should teachers be trained by police firearms instructors?
Colo. massacre: Educating the public on the five phases of the active shooter
Active shooters in schools: How far have we come since Sandy Hook?
Newtown shooting: Why Minutemen can protect against active shooters
Active shooters in schools: The enemy is denial