Until U.S. Understands Police Limitations, Some Will Put Faith in Gun Control
Newtown, Connecticut: twenty children and seven adults are dead at the hands of a madman. Across the nation, police officers are shaking with frustration.
They rage because the facts of the attack -- which will continue to develop for many days -- are already all too familiar. They think, over and over again, what they might ever do to respond to an active shooter in a school, yet they know there is very little they can do. As in this vile crime, all they'll be likely to do is to coordinate medical care for the wounded and to deal with the crime scene surrounding the shooter, who in almost every case will have shot himself long before the police could lay gun sights on him.
What can be done to prevent this kind of wanton murder? Security measures such as locks, reinforced doors, security cameras, hardened glass, and a variety of other devices and procedures are useful but ultimately cannot stop a determined attacker armed with tools no more complex and high-tech than a hammer and crowbar.
They can only delay him, and only for a matter of seconds. Run-and-hide policies and drills are useful, but do nothing to deter or stop an active shooter.
There is one thing that can immediately stop an active shooter, and which, if handled properly, may even serve as a deterrent. Unlike most governmental initiatives, it will cost little or nothing, and is undeniably effective. However, until the public understands the reality facing the police -- the people they look to for the protection of themselves and their children -- that single most effective solution is impossible.
Active duty officers usually cannot tell the whole truth to the public; they'd lose their jobs.
Police administrators won't tell the whole truth to the public; they have to please the politicians that hired them.
Since I'm no longer serving as a police officer, I can tell the truth -- the whole truth -- and it's not encouraging. Remember, above all, this foremost truth: No one is responsible for your personal safety and that of those you love but you.
The Police Want To Help You, but They Don't Have To Help You
Have no doubt: Police officers love to catch bad guys in the act. They particularly love to catch bad guys who would harm children. Virtually nothing pegs their righteous takedown meter faster than stopping a school shooter, hopefully with blindingly fast and effective overwhelming violence, and before the shooter can harm a single child.
But every competent officer knows the chance of that happening is on the order of being hit by a meteor: virtually nonexistent.
They also know they have no obligation whatever to protect or help any individual, and they cannot be successfully sued for failing to provide such protection. It sounds outrageous, but it's rational and necessary.
If municipalities and individual officers could be sued for failure to keep each citizen from harm, how could any city afford a police force? Who would become a police officer knowing every dime they ever made would be spent fending off lawsuits for matters about which they had no knowledge?
Police officers won't refuse to respond to active shooters in schools. However, that is cold comfort to them and to any parent aware of the facts.
There Are A Lot Of Bad Guys Out There
Most Americans would be stunned to learn how few police officers are patrolling the streets of their communities at any time of the day or night.
Police agencies are always undermanned and staff their shifts accordingly, with the largest number of officers when they are most needed, commonly the evening and midnight shifts, and particularly Friday and Saturday nights.
The day shift, the shift coinciding with school hours, is virtually always the most sparsely staffed.
This means that when an active shooter invades a school, there will be very few officers available, fewer than at any other time of the day.
Unfortunately, more and more states and cities are in deep financial trouble, and many have been laying off police officers -- or simply not replacing those who retire or leave for other reasons -- for years. The San Bernardino, CA city attorney recently took the previously unimaginable step of telling citizens to "Go home, lock your doors, and load your guns," so desperate has the crime problem become there and so hard-pressed the police force.
Things will be unlikely to improve -- anywhere -- in the foreseeable future.
The Police Are Less Ready Than You Think
The police did learn from Columbine (April 20, 1999). In those days, active shooters were handled with the belief that time was on the side of the police. Officers were taught never to enter a school, to contain and control the situation, and to call in SWAT. Negotiations would be established, and the kinds of responses commonly portrayed on TV and in the movies would unfold.
Unfortunately, that response model cost lives.
While the police at Columbine waited for hours to enter, people who might have been saved bled out, and the shooters -- as is almost always the case -- killed themselves long before the first SWAT officer entered the building.
Since that day, the police response model has evolved to require the first officers on the scene to immediately enter the school and to seek out and assault any shooters. Unfortunately, not every police agency has adopted this model, and the quality and quantity of training in the necessary tactics and skills are far from standardized and effective.
Most Americans would be equally stunned to learn that a great many police officers are not good shots.
Many fire their duty handguns only for yearly qualifications on courses of fire with generous passing scores. A great many citizens are far more capable with firearms, and due to military training -- most police officers are no longer veterans -- and other specialized training widely available to civilians, more tactically adept.
Firearm training and standards vary wildly from agency to agency.
Time Is Not On The Side Of The Good Guys
Response times for emergencies vary enormously from place to place. In some rural or semi-rural areas, emergency response is measured in hours. Even in towns or cities, a five-minute response -- from the moment an officer receives the radio call until he arrives in a school parking lot -- would be amazingly fast.
Consider, however, that a radio call likely would not have been made until someone at the school realized what was happening and made a call, a call that will take precious seconds -- even minutes -- to make and to be understood. By the time a radio signal flashes out, a shooter could easily have been shooting for five minutes or more.
And even when that first officer arrives in the parking lot, he will likely not have clear directions. Few police officers have so much as been inside every school in their jurisdiction; fewer know them well. Even if that first officer can hear continuing gunfire, unless by chance he happens to enter the school near the shooter it will take additional minutes to find and stop the shooter. Unless the shooter stops him first.
Every minute is an eternity in a school attack. Every minute costs lives. All competent police officers know this; it's one of their greatest frustrations. They know that in virtually every imaginable scenario, the real issue is how many will die before they are in a position to do anything.
They also know that if the modern history of school shootings is any guide, the shooter will virtually always have killed himself long before they arrive.
In virtually every American school shooting, the police have had no role in stopping the shooter.
Feel-Good Measures Harm, Not Help
The police are by and large practical people. They do their best to do what works, because anything else can cost lives. They know that gun-free school zones are actually “victim disarmament zones,” areas killers can attack with the assurance no one will be able to resist them. They know people planning the mass murder of children will not be deterred by any law restricting guns.
They also know guns aren't the only means of causing harm, as was the case recently in Casper, WY, where a teacher was murdered by his son, who fired an arrow into his head and ultimately killed him by stabbing him with a knife. A knife the son then used to kill himself.
The Single Most Effective Solution
In a free society, nothing can stop the deranged from committing crimes. Everything the Connecticut killer did is already as illegal as human beings can make it, which means little to one planning to take his own life.
Additional laws, particularly those disarming the innocent and law-abiding, accomplish nothing. What I'm about to relate, rank and file police officers -- the men and women who have to charge into danger -- broadly support. Their bosses, by and large, do not.
Because seconds matter in school attacks, only the arming of school staff by means of concealed handguns can possibly deter attacks and save lives.
Millions of Americans, including teachers, already have concealed carry permits issued by the states and form a ready pool of the qualified.
The deterrent effect of concealed carry in schools can be considerable. Any potential attacker, knowing that a given school district allows concealed carry but takes pains to keep the identities and numbers of teachers on a given campus carrying handguns secret, is conferring the benefit of deterrence on every school in that district.
Police officers know criminals fear armed citizens far more than they fear the police.
Only armed and capable school staff, ready to respond to an armed attack when and where it occurs, can possibly save lives – perhaps, even stop an attack before it begins. Even an armed teacher in another hallway when the first shot rings out will be able to stop an attacker far sooner than any police officer still minutes from even receiving a radio call.
"We've got to do something!" Indeed we do. And now you know what the police know, and the source of their frustration. It's time to do the only thing that works against deadly school attacks. All else is wishful thinking.