It was ten years ago. April 20, 1999, two students walked into the school they attended, Columbine High School, in Jefferson County, Colorado, and proceeded to kill 12 students, a teacher and finally, themselves. They had plenty of time in which to do it.
Scores of law enforcement officers surrounded the school. Apache-like, they stalked around the building as some surviving students made it out of the place on their own. They were employing an age-old police method: “time, talk, and tactics.” Trouble is, the killers used the time to finish their deadly work.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police had initiated a new training program in the mid-nineties, dubbed “IARD” — Immediate Action Rapid Deployment. Under its regimen there’d be no time for talk: well-armed officers would burst into a hostage site prepared to dispatch what had become known as an “Active Shooter.” There even evolved a federal corollary known of course by a longer title, “Active Shooter Threat Instructor Training Program,” or ASTITP.
The gist of the new tactic, to heavily arm and heavily protect lawmen who would not wait to assess the threat situation, but would act immediately to enter premises and stop murder. The Police Chiefs said up-front this would be costly: arming an officer with an automatic weapon, an AR-15 preferred, suitable protective armor, and a bag of ammo and assorted implements, would cost an estimated $5,000. Perhaps that is why “active shooters” still have leisure time ticking away at their deadly sites.
Authorities in Binghamton, New York, insist a couple of hours was not too long to discover the thanatoid scene in the Immigrant Ed Building. Little has been said of the responsiveness to the Virginia Tech massacre (after all, the killer had chained a door shut, hadn’t he?).
And there are of course situations where police are ambushed on what seemed to be a routine domestic trouble call — Pittsburgh.
But the rash of recent multiple slayings calls to mind the grim anniversary of Columbine and the question for every precinct in the nation: are you ready? Can you answer an active shooter threat with immediate action deployment? Do you have a swift swat capacity of trained and equipped officers?
Never mind how many. It’s how fast.