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What Parkland law enforcement failed to learn from Columbine

The stunning news that surfaced a week after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, F...

Posted: Mar 4, 2018 6:16 PM

The stunning news that surfaced a week after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, was hard to digest. An armed Broward County Sheriff's Office (BSO) deputy, Scot Peterson, assigned as a school resource officer, was on duty on that February afternoon. And yet he remained outside of the freshman building during the slaughter.

Peterson's lawyer claimed the way he acted was "appropriate under the circumstances," and that he did not run into the school because he thought the gunfire was coming from outside. He further added that "allegations that Mr. Peterson was a coward and that his performance, under the circumstances, failed to meet the standards of police officers are patently untrue."

Nonetheless, Peterson has since resigned and an investigation has been opened.

It's important to remember that after the 1999 Columbine shooting, there were new protocols established to address an active school shooter. A review of the law enforcement response at Columbine concluded that arriving officers elected not to enter the school buildings until a SWAT team arrived and made entry some 47 minutes after the first shots were fired.

In the business of saving lives, minutes -- and even seconds -- count. Awaiting the arrival and assembly of a SWAT team is therefore no longer the preferred practice. Instead, whoever is on scene is supposed to confront the shooter immediately, with the understanding that backup will be on the way. Peterson's failure to follow the immediate interdiction protocol shows that the lessons of Columbine have not yet been fully implemented and embraced.

Now I know not every member of law enforcement is a hero. And just like in every profession, some are better suited for the "business" than others. But sound training also conditions officers to control their fears and act heroically.

Tactics learned in law enforcement academies and in-service training contribute to this response conditioning. And in the almost 19 years since the Columbine shooting, law enforcement has reflected on the lessons learned from that massacre and adopted tactics to counter an evolving threat.

What was so unique about Columbine was that it was wholly unexpected and involved attackers in a bucolic suburban setting -- like Parkland.

And the police response was based on law enforcement's contextual understanding of hostage situations. In other words, law enforcement tactics in 1999 were still hopelessly rooted in the 1975 bank standoff tactics in Sidney Lumet's "Dog Day Afternoon." Responding police agencies at Columbine assembled in staging areas and formed a standard police perimeter.

Thinking at the time was centered on the theory of "contain and negotiate." What made Columbine unique in law enforcement annals was that the depraved killers were simply intent on racking up a large body count, with no real intention of surviving the attack.

Therefore, containment became an archaic approach. And waiting for a SWAT team to arrive and interdict a barricaded subject became an outdated construct.

Training in the early 2000s focused on the immediate coalescing of disparate arriving law enforcement elements into tactical formations that immediately moved toward the epicenter of danger. Local departments and state agencies began to train closely with their federal counterparts. And the new tactics became universally adopted.

The FBI's Hostage Rescue Team, located within the US Marine Corps base at Quantico, Virginia, has hosted active shooter training for units like the New York State Police's Special Operations Response Team. And FBI SWAT teams frequently host local police departments to share "best practices" and to ensure seamless coordination -- known as interoperability -- when responding officers from different departments converge on a scene.

In March 2014, the Police Executive Research Forum drafted another treatise in their "Critical Issues in Policing" series: "The Police Response to Active Shooter Incidents." Beyond the obvious acknowledgment that Columbine was the catalyst for tactical rethinking, it focused on an Associated Press accounting that highlighted the post-Columbine tactics shift:

"A deadly shooting at an Indiana grocery store could have been much worse if not for the quick actions of two police officers who relied on training that has become commonplace since the 1999 Columbine shootings. Cody Skipper and Jason Tripp arrived at the Elkhart store within three minutes and needed less than 60 seconds to fatally shoot a gunman who had killed two people and was threatening a third."

Responding Officers Skipper and Tripp skipped the first procedural step in the outdated "contain and negotiate" protocol -- establish a perimeter -- and moved immediately to confront the gunman. They didn't await arrival of a tactical team. While their actions assuredly presented more risk of danger to themselves, it undoubtedly saved lives.

So now that local reporting from the Miami-Herald charges that a BSO captain who arrived to take charge of the scene in Parkland issued a command directive to "form a perimeter," it may be indicative of department protocols that were not updated after Columbine.

Sheriff Steve Israel, who actually hired the on-scene commander, Captain Jan Jordan, refutes that notion. He has stated he concurs with the national police consensus that places a priority on immediately confronting a shooter, rather than securing a scene. Israel also maintains that his department's sworn members are trained in these accepted practices.

But the BSO dispatch log obtained by the Miami-Herald indicates that is not what occurred. And that's unconscionable and may have led to the loss of more student and teacher lives.

Let's hope that the deep-dive investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement into the factors that contributed to this tragedy provides us some answers.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 144544

Reported Deaths: 3729
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto963299
Hinds9584195
Harrison6848109
Jackson6124118
Rankin528598
Lee484295
Madison4633105
Forrest368186
Jones345287
Lauderdale3350143
Lafayette315049
Washington3097107
Lamar281849
Oktibbeha239261
Bolivar239083
Lowndes228863
Neshoba2164115
Panola211749
Marshall208350
Leflore200890
Pontotoc194728
Monroe190277
Sunflower189755
Lincoln186165
Warren172257
Tate164251
Union160925
Pike160458
Copiah158940
Yazoo151239
Scott150229
Itawamba147634
Coahoma147443
Pearl River144467
Simpson144253
Alcorn143925
Prentiss140429
Grenada136945
Adams136548
Leake131843
Holmes124961
George122224
Tippah121530
Covington117636
Winston116624
Wayne115823
Hancock114139
Marion111046
Attala107833
Tishomingo106142
Newton102729
Chickasaw102432
Tallahatchie95527
Clarke88553
Clay87027
Jasper81122
Walthall75028
Stone72414
Montgomery71925
Calhoun71613
Carroll70614
Lawrence70214
Yalobusha69427
Noxubee69217
Smith68816
Perry65225
Tunica59619
Greene58422
Claiborne57416
Jefferson Davis54217
Humphreys52618
Amite51214
Benton48417
Quitman4796
Webster42014
Kemper40917
Wilkinson38622
Jefferson33811
Franklin3235
Choctaw3077
Sharkey30617
Issaquena1114
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 236865

Reported Deaths: 3472
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson31043491
Mobile19446360
Tuscaloosa12684150
Madison12528146
Montgomery12122235
Shelby992276
Baldwin837684
Lee759765
Morgan626247
Calhoun6049113
Etowah600564
Marshall596153
Houston510838
DeKalb469635
Cullman421136
Limestone408844
St. Clair403955
Elmore398961
Lauderdale387253
Walker356199
Talladega339044
Jackson302524
Colbert297641
Blount282236
Autauga266139
Franklin246233
Coffee236615
Dale228454
Dallas222331
Russell21923
Chilton218537
Covington215933
Escambia196931
Tallapoosa171790
Chambers171448
Pike156014
Clarke155319
Marion135535
Winston126623
Lawrence123936
Geneva11848
Pickens117618
Marengo117424
Barbour116710
Bibb115717
Butler114341
Randolph100321
Cherokee99624
Hale93231
Washington89918
Clay89623
Fayette86216
Henry8436
Lowndes78929
Monroe77911
Cleburne75614
Macon71720
Crenshaw70330
Bullock69019
Conecuh68214
Perry6726
Lamar6337
Wilcox62818
Sumter56222
Choctaw41813
Greene41317
Coosa3144
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