We’ve had a couple active killer events in the past couple weeks again. Three nationally known ones in the past couple months. One at a church, one at a movie theater, and one at multiple military locations. There are questions that should be coming to mind in an effort to improve our responses to such incidents, as well as improving the training we are conducting for them.
The SC church shooter escaped and drove to another state prior to arrest. The agency involved responded and actively involved themselves in getting the information out so that he could be identified. As LE outside of the jurisdiction, when we heard about it, and learned the shooter was still outstanding, did we start asking questions about possible other targets? Would you identify sectors in your town or city that should have an LEO staged so as to prepare for an additional incident? How many have the manpower and ability to divert units responding to the first incident, so as to protect additional potential ones?
The recent LA movie theater incident, we can surmise that the shooter planned on escaping, either to continue additional targets or to just flee as the SC church shooter did. His keys were left on his tire, and his car was parked by the emergency exit to the theater. He attempted to mingle with panicked people in the crowd, and for reasons known only to him decided to commit suicide as responding units approached, rather than shooting to make his escape. What if he did go mobile? Burnett County WI had such an incident with a suspect shooting at numerous cars from the side of a busy highway, before fleeing in a vehicle. He was luckily located some five miles away as additional personnel were still being called out from home, and the lone Deputy stopped the threat during a brief gunfight on the side of the highway. Are you as an officer, or an agency, thinking about how to respond to these?
The Chatanooga TN incident involved shots fired at a recruiting center from a vehicle before continuing to be mobile and gain access through a security gate of another naval center where he was able to continue his rampage. In the confusion that follows when one starts to learn about multiple shooting incidents occurring, are we training to adapt to the fluid situation to secure the shooter, and get aid to the victims?
According to the FBI study of Active Killer Incidents from 2000-2013 (https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2014/september/fbi-releases-study-on-active-shooter-incidents/pdfs/a-study-of-active-shooter-incidents-in-the-u.s.-between-2000-and-2013), 15% of incidents involve multiple locations. Much current training mentality is that the incident is no longer an active shooter unless killing is ongoing. It is one of the ways the necessary tactical response differences are identified between active killers and hostage takers or barricaded gunmen. As active killers continue to manipulate their plans to get around LE responses, what are we doing to improve our abilities to maintain the pressure of contact teams versus shifting to a barricaded gunman speed? An example of this in my state, which also ties into the next point, is the Sikh Temple shooting in Oak Creek Wisconsin, where the shooter became a mobile shooter on foot after he left the temple and engaged multiple LE outdoors in the large parking lot. He adapted his tactics to his environment, and was able to critically wound one of the LE responders before being stopped by excellent marksmanship of a second.
The latest training manual version for my states LE training was approved in December 2014, and instructors are still being switched over to the new curriculum over the coming months. In that basic academy curriculum, it naturally focuses heavily on tactics needed for responding to an active shooter in a building. It briefly touches on some small unit tactics that could be used for movement in a separate part of the manual. Other states may also heavily focus on active shooter techniques and training only in buildings.
The same FBI study states 9.4% of incidents during that time period occurred outdoors. While slightly less than 1 in 10, I feel it is still important to address, such as how we address how to fix handgun malfunctions that may rarely occur. It is up to us to address the possibility of an active killer in an open area, either as his target choice, as occurred in Niagra Wisconsin and recently in Menasha, Wisconsin, or on his way to another target location. In the Niagra incident, a gunman shot at and killed swimmers in the wooded area around the river bordering Wisconsin and Michigan. In Menasha, a gunman randomly shot and killed victims he found in a city park.
The tactics needed for such killers outdoors, while maintaining a few similarities in approach tactics, such as the use of angles, they are also wholly different. The use of L, T, and + intersections and geometric angles still apply in the outdoor situations as they do in structures, but with an added three dimensional approach of terrain. One also has to address more small unit tactic movement drills and linkup and coordination protocols with the different environment. How are you accomplishing that at your agency? Most of us don’t have a patrol helicopter to call on (There isn’t even one in Wisconsin at all.), or the personnel for a massive perimeter. So how will you use responding resources to build on what you need, while at the same time providing scene security at existing crime scenes?
Last, it is overwhelmingly obvious that most active killer events involve a single perpetrator. Columbine comes to mind as going against this rule, but most don’t know of Craighead County AR in 1998, which saw a 13 and a 11 year old shooting at students. Las Vegas saw a man and woman combination that also involved police officers executed. Foreign terrorist incidents often involve more than one suspect as we’ve seen. So while around 98% of incidents are single suspects, do we train for multiple, or are we training to assume only one?
A lot of flexibility and situational awareness needs to be encouraged, so that we can not only adapt as killers adapt, but so that we can maintain efficiency in working with rescue task force concepts providing early aid to victims, and get active killers put down like the animals they are faster.