Readers Respond: Active Shooters, Mental Health & Quality of Training

July 13, 2022

Two recent Calibre Press newsletter articles drew some interesting feedback. We’d like to share a few of the comments we received.

We’ll start with responses to an article written by guest columnist Nick Greco titled, Illinois Active Shooter: Standing at the Crossroads of Mental Health & the Law.

Officer Jason Nicolls with Williams (AZ) PD writes:

You’re right, the answers are in the middle. To get to the reasonable answers, both sides of the aisle must come together and stop digging in their heals on their agendas.  We—law enforcement, attorneys, courts—also need to consistently enforce many of the gun laws on the books in many of the states.

People are going to continue to hurt/kill people and if they can’t get ahold of a gun, they’re going to figure out other ways to do it.

My thoughts and prayers go out to those who have been hurt or lost a loved one.

Patrol Commander George Dominy (ret.), formerly with Sweet Home (OR) PD writes:

After reading your article, and several others regarding mass shootings I see some things in common.

First, I see that no one addresses the connection between today’s very violent and graphic video games and the perpetrators that become shooters.  Has anyone done research (without bias) to see if there is a connection between the two and what the percentage of shooters played those games prior to following through with their acts of violence?

Second (this one you touched on), society has become so politically correct and easily offended that people are afraid to file a complaint based on something someone said or posted for fear that they will either get sued for slander or retaliated against by the perpetrator.  There are “laws” in place to protect the complainants, but criminals don’t follow the laws so they are basically worthless. People have to be able defend themselves, their families, and others from the evil that lurks in the world.

Third (again you touched on this), when a tragedy like this happens, all the anti-American politicians and high profile “celebrities” are quick to put the blame on needing stricter gun laws and taking guns and high capacity magazines away from law abiding citizens while all they and their families are being guarded by security personnel armed with weapons high capacity magazines.  They don’t put any blame on the shooter. It’s always everybody else’s fault, including people that “should have” picked up on the red flags.  Unfortunately, even if they had reported the red flags, the mental health professionals wouldn’t have done anything aggressive about it. I know first- hand. I’ve taken people to the hospital on a legitimate POH where they have attempted to kill themselves or someone else and the mental health personnel interviewed the suspects for 10 minutes maximum, then had them sign a contract saying they wouldn’t kill themselves or anyone else, then they were released. As if the suspect is concerned about breaking that contract.

Fourth, none of the corrupt politicians are willing to admit that the entire system is broken and not working.  Common sense (which they clearly don’t have) tells us that if there are no consequences for bad actions, then those actions will become more and more frequent and get worse.  Research has shown (and confirmed by parole and probation and corrections personnel) that rehabilitation only works in a very SMALL percentage of the people.  When laws were repealed and jails/prisons were closed due to lack of financing, crimes increased.  Wow, who could have seen that coming? Only EVERYBODY with any common sense.

As long as the system continues in a downhill spiral, things are just going to get worse and no one is going to take responsibility for not fixing it.  We all need to stay vigilant and alert and watch each other’s six.

A reader writes:

I have over 25 years of LE experience SWAT/Sniper, 10 years Army (Sniper) combined. Street supervisor patrol duties, weapons instructor (privately/Gov) and shot competitively as well in the service. I also teach CCL privately and train LE at college on the side.

You explained the issues well and covered most of the problems that we currently face in Illinois, as well as in our country, regarding gun violence and violence in general.

The political environment on both sides never has good answers, but they are just as quick to judge or pass judgement onto others (Safe-T Act). I think the responses from the Governor and our President/Vice made record time to make it even more political than before. After all, it is an election year. The answer to solving that is to elect only those with public service backgrounds (i.e., police, fire, medical professionals, honorably discharged military) who can hold an oath. (no lawyers). Public servants are the people who should have high ethical characteristics, can lead and have actually gotten their hands soiled.

I am a gun advocate that believes in arming our civilians/teachers/patriots. I also believe that had Crimo been prohibited from buying guns, he likely would have “found a way” to obtain them regardless. To your point, even the gun laws didn’t stop him from carrying out his attack.

Could detecting “red flags” have done anything? I also agree with you that it’s unlikely they would have been addressed. I recall countless times our agency sent Clear and Present danger forms to the ISP only to have had them rejected.

I can only begin to wonder, just how deep the problem with FOID, IL Laws, ISP and politicians run. You’re also correct that he likely had a mental illness, in which he COULD have been sent by LE involuntarily by a CIT-trained officer. That is a big maybe that ISP might have rejected him from the ability to purchase weapons. Still, where there’s a will, there’s a way and we go back to him finding that way regardless.

Your article is true and on point that there likely are no good answers to solve these problems.

I personally go back to LTC Grossman’s theory of evil:

Understand and believe that there will always be sheep, wolves and sheepdogs in our society.

Which one you choose to be when the wolf comes is the answer. Sheep or Sheepdog?

You can’t always see or spot the wolf in sheep’s clothing, but they are among them.

Next, here are some insights shared in response to the article Are You Checking the Box or Training for Competence? In the piece, Calibre Press instructor Kelly DeVoll detailed four questions that can help evaluate the leadership acumen of your department’s command staff and their level of readiness to respond to and investigate use of force incidents.

The questions Kelly suggests agencies consider:

— Are the formal leaders in our agency tactically competent and capable of properly evaluating the performance of officers under their command?

— Do our supervisors have a thorough enough understanding of human performance issues to adequately judge use of force cases?

— Is our agency conducting training in a way that will build day-to-day competence or are we just “checking boxes?”

— Have we honestly assessed our agency’s processes and are we willing to hear the results of that assessment?

Here is what a couple of readers had to say:

That was a great article and right on point.  I think there is a bigger problem, on top of the lack of tactical training, in police leaders.  It’s the lack of tactical command training.

As I see it, in many police departments the person who will lead in a real crisis is often a mid- to high-level “boss” who may not have recently trained in tactical command and is tied up with more bureaucratic decisions due to his or her position.  Therefore, they may have little concept of time and space competition during a conflict and how the Incident Command System must be adapted to a dynamic situation.

I spent part of my career updating police leadership training to recognize the need to confront and stop a threat ideally BEFORE harm is created for innocent persons or to stop the harm as soon as contact is made with the threat, not to check the box for “barricade” or “hostage” and let the perpetrator dictate from there how things will proceed.

The problem is many police leaders still do not understand the concepts involved.  In fact, if they study these concepts, they may be criticized for being “too military.”  However, it is in these conflict situations, where lives may be lost, that true crisis leadership is called for and it may not be the highest-ranking person who can provide it.  We need only look at Cheshire, CT, Platte Canyon, CO, the Pulse nightclub, or many other active shooter incidents where higher level leaders were involved.  The police response, while well-intentioned or even noble, suffered not only from poor communications (which as you well know is a problem in nearly every crisis) but also from leaders who were not properly prepared for command in a conflict.

For example, if you ask ten leaders what “contain” means, you would get at least five different answers.  What does it mean when someone says the suspect is “contained?”  Is he in a room with ten hostages, some of whom are dying?  Is he alone in a closet?  It makes a difference, and if the leader just checks the box that says “contained” and halts all activity aimed at stopping the threat, what happens to the ten people in the room with the threat?

As an analogy, firefighters would not leave ten people in a burning house just because no other houses were on fire.   But somehow this is one concept police leaders often get stuck on.  Commanders may not understand the dynamics of the situation and the concept of containment as stopping the threat rather than confining it to a smaller number of people than before.

One reason for this conceptual limitation is that existing active shooter training focuses mostly on the first responder level, not on the command level.  Also, some active shooter training I am familiar with has NO provision for treating a threat of an active shooter the same as an active shooter.  It is taught that we “go towards the sound” of gunfire, but there is no provision for what to do if there is no gunfire yet.  What about moving to where the targets are to protect them in case gunfire starts?  Leaders are generally not trained to think of specific concepts that apply in this situation, such as time and space competition.

Another example: Training for active shooters often teaches that a barricade or hostage situation is time to stop and call for SWAT, negotiators, etc.  But the words “barricade” and “hostage situation” are not well-defined. This leads to failure to act while leaders hesitate due to poor understanding of what the terms mean in the specific situation.  Much of the training is based on old school thinking that believed “barricaded persons” or “hostage takers” were looking for something other than a high body count.

Negotiations are often said to have the purpose of “bringing the situation to a peaceful resolution.”  From the viewpoint of innocent people who are held hostage or stuck behind a so-called barricade with a threat, negotiations should be focused on stopping the threat without harm to innocent persons.  In top-quality negotiator training, it is acknowledged that there are times for rapid tactical intervention.  Commanders may not understand that negotiations do not stop the competition for space and time, they are just part of the dynamic situation.

The topics I have mentioned are well covered in “Sound Doctrine, A Tactical Primer,” by Charles “Sid” Heal, Lantern Publishing and Media, Brooklyn, NY (2020,) as well as in two articles in the Spring 2022 issue of the “Tactical Edge” magazine of the National Tactical Officers Association, and in “The Missing Piece of NIMS: Teaching Incident Commanders How to Function in the Edge of Chaos,” by  Cynthia Renaud, in Homeland Security Affairs, Vol. 8, Article 8, June 2012.

As a sampling of topical awareness, for the Uvalde review panel put together by DOJ, I suggested (in another email) they survey panel members to see if they have read these sources and understand them.  (Side note; the book “Sound Doctrine” and the Renaud article were required reading on my old department promotional exams.)

It is my opinion that many higher-level police leaders need more background in these areas, just as you highlight the need for police supervisors and officers to spend more time training on tactics and preparation for active shooters, or can I add;  “Potential” Active Shooters.

Officer Franklin Marino (ret.) writes:

I retired from a large (2800 plus officers) municipal agency after 26 years, which included 20 years on the street as a beat cop, but I was also a labor representative and served at the executive board level for the labor group representing the rank and file for nearly 10 years.  When it came to administrative interviews during use of force cases and officer involved shootings, our labor reps were probably the best trained people in the room.  We sent them to use of force seminars and some, like me, were Force Science Institute graduates.

Lt. DeVoll is spot on with regards to tactical competence when it comes to agency heads.  All too often, college degrees are mandatory requirements for either hiring or promotion, so people who are book smart can review and regurgitate information for promotional boards, but sadly, there are too many front-line supervisors who are clueless when it comes to tactics.   Why is that?  Here’s what I saw in my own agency:

— Some people planning to promote took a position so they were off the street and could study and prep for the promotional process.

— Many of those who chose to promote never had solid street skills to begin with and it was evident through their career.

— Some who chose to promote took the easy path once off probation, taking a position outside patrol to prepare for the next promotional process

Lack of street skills and tactical competence, particularly when in a leadership/management position gets people hurt and could potentially cost lives.  Far too many “test takers” have promoted and have long forgotten their roots as a street cop.  Tactics change, training changes, and the street environment is radically different than it was even two or three years ago.  We have more potent street drugs and people are more willing to challenge, fight, and try to kill you thanks to the anti-police rhetoric that began with the Obama presidency.

I have more respect for the first-line and middle-level manager who’s still on the street with the enthusiasm they had as a rookie instead of the typical “ticket puncher” who’s there to climb the promotional ladder for their own benefit.

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