“Controlled chaos.” That’s how SIG SAUER Senior Instructor Scott Reidy describes police response to an active shooter at a school. At best. And no wonder. Officers entering the scene of a school shooting don’t know how many gunman are involved, where they’re located, what weapons they wield or the type or location of hostages, innocents, other responders, explosive devices or booby traps. They may not even know the school layout or the officers who’ve joined them at the scene. In the initial phase, there’s not likely to be a chain of command. And off they go . . .
There’s plenty of little things that need learning. Don’t rush around corners. Pause after your teammate opens a door so he can grip his gun and come steaming in behind you. Communicate loudly so that other entry teams will know your movements. Don’t forget to clear rooms. Or post guards in hallways. Don’t deal with the injured until you’ve secured the shooter, unless you need intel from them. Look out for booby traps and bombs. Call them “bingos” to avoid inducing panic. Beware of blue-on-blue (armed civilians or off-duty cops). Shoot to stop.
The SIG SAUER Academy’s Active Shooter Response Instructor’s course teaches techniques and strategies are based on common sense, police procedure and real-world tragedy. The instructors know what’s required for the real deal, and how to teach someone how to teach someone the best way to end an active shooter incident. But there’s no getting around it: the money shot—the sim itself—is the dictionary definition of basic. It reminded me of playing Starsky & Hutch with Steven King in my parents’ house when I was eight.
SIG’s trainers are well aware of the discrepancy between their final exercise and reality. They know that cops entering a school shooting scene (or similar) could face screaming children, piles of dead bodies, wounded people screaming for help, fire alarms, sirens, a blood-slicked floor, a labyrinth of dozens or rooms (which may extend inwards six or seven deep) and corridors (that could stretch more than a 100 yards). Equipment failure. Return fire from a child. Or children. Who may attempt to blend in with hostages or innocents. Or trigger the aforementioned bombs.
The sim doesn’t recreate the reality. It can’t. It can only give officers the basic tools they need to bring order to chaos. To raise their game beyond the SIG SAUER training, police participants would have to practice in a more realistic environment with simunitions (i.e. people firing back). That takes a lot of money, time, equipment and organization. More than SIG SAUER can bring to bear at their Epping Academy.
That’s a shame. In post-9/11 America, Uncle Sam (i.e. your tax money) buys local and state cops all the law enforcement toys they want, up to and including a tank. What they need is training. Constant, realistic, challenging training. While SIG SAUER fills a gap in the cops’ active shooter response skills, LEOs deserve something bigger, badder, longer and more realistic—considering the dangers involved. To wit: the last slide on the pre-sim Powerpoint presentation. “Sometimes it’s a bad day to be a cop.”
And yet there they are.