from the May 31, 2000 edition
[ Editor's note:
The Christian Science Monitor archive includes stories dating back to 1980. Some early articles lack sufficient formatting, and will appear as one long column without paragraph breaks. We apologize for the aesthetics and hope that the information will still be of value to you. ]
Change in tactics: Police trade talk for rapid response
The suspects are armed. The police are called. To save lives, the
time-honored strategy for the first officers on the scene is "time, talk,
But last year's shooting spree at Columbine High School is causing police
in Colorado - and across much of the nation - to rethink the conventional
wisdom of "buying time." In that tragic sequence of events, the two young
gunmen killed 13 students and wounded 21 others within 16 minutes of
As a result, police training and policy are undergoing a significant but
controversial shift. Instead of being taught to wait for the SWAT team to
arrive, street officers are receiving the training and weaponry to take
immediate action during incidents that clearly involve suspects' use of
"Columbine was a seminal event," says Chief Ron Sloan of the Arvada, Colo.,
police department. "You had two individuals intent on killing as many
people as possible.... It kind of shattered our innocence: The unthinkable
now is thinkable."
Standard issue: semiautomatic rifles
Under the new "rapid deployment" approach, police in Arvada, just west of
Denver, are being trained to take charge if they arrive at a scene of a
shooting in progress. They will carry AR-15 semiautomatic rifles and be
equipped with ballistic helmets and vests - in hope of ending any mass
shooting before additional lives are lost.
"We're talking about street-ready cops having the equipment and training
necessary to respond immediately," says Arvada Deputy Chief Ted Mink. "Law
enforcement can't afford to sit back on its heels. It's all about public
Since Columbine, countless police departments nationwide have taken similar
steps. "In every place that I'm aware of, there has been a profound shift,"
says David Klinger, a criminologist at the University of Missouri in St.
Louis. "They have instituted a far higher level than ever before of
training for officers to respond to an active shooting. Columbine was the
catalyst, without a doubt."
The rapid-deployment concept itself isn't new. Organizations such as the
International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) have offered training
on the technique since the mid-1990s.
But Maj. Steve Ijames, operations commander for the Springfield Police
Department in Missouri and an IACP instructor, says demand for his
rapid-deployment classes increased dramatically after Columbine. Although
similar events predated Columbine, it has become a watershed for
law-enforcement agencies, who began to confront the reality that they too
might face such an incident.
"We've never seen anything like it before, and I hope we never do again.
But it's from the crises other agencies go through that we learn how to
respond better in our own communities," he says. "It makes you think of the
saying, 'There but for the grace of God, go I.' "
The rapid-deployment technique is controversial, however, and some
departments eschew it, says Major Ijames. "A number of agencies are
continuing with the 'time, talk and tactics' strategy."
Some chiefs say the cost of equipping their entire force with such
firepower and protective gear - as much as $5,000 per officer - is
But Dr. Klinger, a former Los Angeles police officer, sees such reluctance
as indefensible. "Not training officers in this technique is, to me, like
putting cops out onto the street without guns." Even though many officers
will never fire their guns, they still are trained to use them, he says.
"When agencies try to avoid high-risk situations at all costs, and wait for
SWAT to arrive, the problem is that the cost is going to be innocent
victims," he says. "Unfortunately, we've had an increase in school
shootings with mass casualties. Police chiefs can no longer bury their
heads in the sand." Others emphasize that strategic decisions must be
made at the scene, based on the particular circumstances.
In Colorado's Boulder County, the sheriff's department began training
officers to handle mass shootings several years ago.
But even with appropriate training and equipment, arriving officers aren't
encouraged to storm in on a barricaded suspect unless shots are being
fired, says Deputy Kevin Parker.
"It's very situational. If it's at a school, and there are students inside,
we wouldn't want officers waiting outside," he says. But in a domestic
dispute or bank robbery, officers would opt for a more traditional approach
in the absence of gunfire, he says.
Moreover, when shooting is active, officers must make a common-sense
decision about entering a scene, adds Sgt. Greg Schumann, who oversees
training for the Boulder County Sheriff's Office. "If you think you'll go
in and get ambushed, that's not going to accomplish much. You have to base
your decision on the information you have at that moment."
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society