Protecting and serving are basic policing tenants. Protect and serve IS law enforcement’s foundation in overcoming the challenges of tomorrow. The greatest challenge before the law enforcement community today is to reduce the growing frequency of Active Shooter Incidents (ASIs).

Protect and serve is the two-pronged approach not limited to traditional policing.  The term also dictates the role of law enforcement in overcoming an ASI. I am a proponent of stopping an ASI before the first shot is fired. I must digress at this point. All ASIs are not committed by use of a firearm.

Columbine HS gave birth to the term “Active Shooter.” In the USA the weapon of choice is a firearm, yet we have incidents involving knives, and IEDS (Improvised Explosive Devices). Thus, Active Shooter is part of an all-inclusive term of “Active Killing.”

Based on the concepts of protect and serve How can law enforcement overcome the growing ASIs with the concept of protect and serve?  The answer is to protect the workplace, schools, and other public areas from a potential AS by intervention as we remain ready to serve if response is necessary to overcome an ASI.

Protect is a proactive approach focused on stopping the ASI before it begins. Response to an ASI is the duty of law enforcement to serve the community. Once people are actively being killed, law enforcement has an inherent duty to terminate the threat. People are injured, dying, and law enforcement is now on the scene to end the carnage. This role is law enforcement meeting its mandate to serve the community by re-stabilizing social control

The law enforcement community adopted a “first responder” approach with the lessons learned from Columbine. That is, we do not wait for SWAT specialist to be on scene before responding.  The acceptance of the first responder” approach was necessary, but insight on stopping these incidents before they begin was not initially available. The law enforcement community believes it is protecting those involved in an ASI. This is not the case when law enforcement is limited to response ONLY.

Let’s review two recent ASIs illustrating the differences between protect and serve:

Volunteer High School, Church Hill, Tennessee.

Protect is a concept which focuses primarily on preventing someone from being harmed. Protect is synonymous with defend, guard, shield, shelter, and safeguard. All these terms require a means of intervention be implemented by law enforcement today to overcome an ASI before the “Active killing” begins.

On Friday June 13, authorities reported that a counselor treating the younger of the two students at a youth center had called police in October. The teen’s parent had reportedly discovered massacre plans in a journal and sought help from the Youth Villages Specialized Crisis Services in Johnson City, Tennessee.

The counselor was a mandated reporter once the student had revealed plans for shooting up the high school during a counseling session. The teenagers, now 16 and 17, had planned to kill as many people as possible. Kandi Shearer of Youth Villages Specialized Crisis Services said, If we have a concern that a youth may be a risk or harm to another individual, we make efforts to notify the individual who is at risk, as well as to contact authorities.”

The actions of the parents followed by the counselor saved lives. The parents sought help through the counseling services, but the counselor learned that a plan of attack was in the preparation stage. This finding by the counselor required she notify the police to protect the high school students. This procedure is the means a timely arrest was initiated by the police.

The sharing of this information with the police led to a search of the younger student’s home in December, police said, they found several guns, firecrackers, a plastic bag full of gunpowder, and floor plans to the high school, as well as journals. Hawkins County Sheriff Ronnie Lawson, said “There was a detailed plan of attack, studies of maximum amount of students in the lunchroom and hallways, and where to block the exits.”

Police charged both students on June 12 with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, conspiracy terrorism and possession of explosives. Neither teen has entered a plea. This proactive approach resulted in nobody being injured or killed and there was no need for a lockdown, or a mutual aid response. The shooters were stopped before the first round was fired!

Reynolds, High School, Troutdale, Oregon

On June 10, Jared Michael Padgett entered the gym area of Reynolds High School. He then introduced the students present into the reality and trauma of an ASI. With graduation just one day away in a Portland Oregon suburb, a teacher was shot in the hip and a student was fatally shot by the shooter.

This incident, like most ASIs, ended soon after it began. Two Troutdale police officers stationed at the school had been in the central building and made their way into the gym. The officers searched the hallways for the shooter, looking for signs of a threat and listening for screams, calls for help, and gunfire. The officers reported a heavy gunpowder odor near the boys’ locker room and .223-caliber casings in the hallway.

Two Gresham police officers joined Troutdale officers in making an entry through the north side of the building. The officers heard gunfire a short distance away.

Padgett became aware of the police presence. He ran to a bathroom, where it was later learned he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The officers followed him into the restroom and heard a rifle shot inside the stall. “Suspect on toilet, can’t see,” an officer radioed about four minutes after the first search team entered the school. The scene was secured. A robot was used by the police to confirm the shooter was no longer a threat. The police response was excellent. Across the USA law enforcement has demonstrated it will respond in a timely, efficient and effective manner.

A sweep of the building followed. A team of officers discovered the lifeless body of Emilio Hoffman, 14, in the locker room. This youth is the lone person to die at the hands of Padgett. It was learned once the teacher was shot, he notified the school an ASI was in place. Although wounded, this teacher acted to save others.

Every ASI cannot be stopped, but many of these incidents can be prevented if officers are given the opportunity. The only way to reverse the growing trend of ASIs is to provide community awareness regarding the importance of reporting troubled, suspicious, or erratic behavior.  Those closest to a potential AS are the eyes and ears of the police.

Lowering the amount of ASIs is a war worth fighting. Proactive v reactive is the best approach in overcoming an ASI. Without question, the best course of action is to stop an ASI before the first shot is fired.

Information sharing is the means to overcome ASIs. There were 16 ASIs in 2013, 20 ASIs are projected to occur in 2014 if the present trend is not reversed. Below 15 is the target with the implementation of a proactive approach to overcome an ASI.

To learn more:

http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2014/06/counselor-helps-foil-teens-alleged-plot-to-shoot-up-tennessee-school/

https://www.lawenforcementtoday.com/2014/06/11/reynolds-high-school-shooting/

http://www.oregonlive.com/gresham/index.ssf/2014/06/oregon_school_shooting_active.html

http://www.merriam-webster.com/

Jim Gaffney, MPA is Law Enforcement Today’s risk management /police administration contributor. He has served with a metro-New York police department for over 30 years in varying capacities, culminating with Executive Officer and PIO. He is a member of (ILEETA), (IACP), and the nationally recognized FBI- LEEDA. Jim is a Certified Force Science Analyst. He mentors law enforcement’s next generation as an adjunct criminal justice professor in the New York City area. Jim brings the street into the classroom to prepare students today for their roles as police officers tomorrow.  He is CEO of Bright Line Consulting and can be reached viawww.brightlinepoliceconsulting.com