Aurora police response strategy -- go right in, right away -- goes back to Columbine

 
Posted2/22/2019 5:25 AM
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  • Law enforcement officers responding to active shooter situations like last week's at the Henry Pratt Co. in Aurora are trained to risk their own safety and engage the shooter as quickly as possible in hopes of reducing civilian casualties.

    Law enforcement officers responding to active shooter situations like last week's at the Henry Pratt Co. in Aurora are trained to risk their own safety and engage the shooter as quickly as possible in hopes of reducing civilian casualties. AP Photo/Matt Marton

After hearing reports of gunfire and injuries at the Henry Pratt Co. facility in Aurora last Friday, the first police officers to arrive at the scene rushed right into the building, guns drawn in search of a shooter.

No waiting for a negotiator. No holding back until a SWAT team arrived. Not even pausing for more backup to get on the scene.

It was incredibly brave and dangerous -- the five officers who suffered gunshot wounds at the scene can attest to that.

And it's exactly how police are trained to respond to active shooter events these days.

"Every time an officer was hit, another went in. No one retreated," Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman said in a social media post earlier this week.

In the days since last week's tragedy that left five civilians dead and six officers hurt, we wondered whether the officers' actions were spurred by sheer courage, training or both. And whether the sharp criticism police in Broward County, Florida, received last year for not quickly engaging the shooter responsible for killing 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School played a role in the response.

To find out, we turned to Peter Blair, executive director of the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training, or ALERRT, Center at Texas State University and one of the nation's leading experts in active shooter responses.

Blair, who in a remarkable coincidence grew up in Aurora, said the roots of the current thinking in responding to active shooters actually go back nearly two decades.

Peter Blair, executive director of the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center at Texas State University.
Peter Blair, executive director of the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center at Texas State University.
'It starts with Columbine'

If there was turning point in law enforcement's thinking on how to react to active shooters, it happened April 20, 1999, when two heavily armed students attacked their classmates and teachers at Columbine High School in suburban Denver, leaving 13 dead.

The first officer at the scene that day briefly engaged with one of the shooters outside the school. But when the shooter retreated into the building, the officer stayed back and waited for reinforcements. Almost an hour passed by the time a SWAT team arrived and was ready to enter the school.

"During that time, the shooters had free rein of the school to carry on with their attack on students and staff and to kill people," Blair said.

The ALERRT curriculum, which has been taught to more than 30,000 law enforcement officers in all 50 states and is the FBI's standard for active shooter response training, says to engage the shooter right away.

"You can expect a patrol officer to arrive on a scene and confront the attacker if there are acts of violence occurring," Blair said. "You're taking a risk, but that's because you're trying to protect lives."

Sorry for the scare

Of all the amazing stories of courage, perseverance and a community coming together we've heard since last week's shooting in Aurora, one of our favorites came from Suzanne Hoban.

In a Facebook message posted Monday, she relates how her mother had a frightening encounter with an Aurora officer outside the mom's home two blocks from Pratt.

"Last Friday, my 94-year-old mother backed out of her driveway, only to be confronted by a fully armed and masked SWAT team officer who barked at her that she could not leave and had to go back into her house. Immediately," she wrote. "For the next two hours, she huddled in her home, fielding phone calls from anxious children and watching the news."

The same officer rang her mother's doorbell the next day,

"He came to apologize to my mother for scaring her and wanted her to know that he was only trying to keep her safe. My sister witnessed this incredible act of compassion, and we are forever grateful for the professionalism of our police officers who rush in when others rush out. In the midst of tragedy, seeds of humanity bind us together," Hoban wrote.

Nothin' says lovin'

Like something from the oven, to quote the Pillsbury Dough Boy. And to say the community appreciates Aurora police is an understatement. In one hour Monday afternoon at least four deliveries of home-baked cookies and other treats were brought in to the police station. One officer, hugging two little boys, said the goodies they brought were "food for the soul."

Spiritual nourishment was provided, too, as Boy Scouts and American Heritage Girls troops based out of Redeemer Community Church also prayed over the dozen or so officers who came down to the lobby to meet them.

Federal docs for free?

For journalists, lawyers or anyone else trying to keep tabs on what's happening in federal courtrooms, the Public Access to Court Electronic Records, aka PACER, is a necessary -- and occasionally costly -- tool of the trade.

The costly part of that equation could soon change, if one Chicago-area congressman gets his way.

U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, whose 5th District includes parts of Des Plaines, Elk Grove Village, Bensenville and Rosemont, introduced the Electronic Court Records Reform Act this month to eliminate the paywall on public federal court records.

As it stands, anyone who wants to view those records online must subscribe to PACER and pay 10 cents per page viewed. While that might not seem like a lot, it can quickly add up for anyone who wants to see the hundreds of pages typically filed in complicated criminal or civil proceedings. (Susan alone spent $260 last year.)

Quigley, a Democrat from Chicago, says his legislation would eliminate the 10-cent charge and require updates to the system.

"As co-founder and chair of the Transparency Caucus, I have made it my mission to provide the public with increased access to the inner workings of their government, which must also include the justice system," Quigley said in an announcement of the bill, which has bipartisan support.

We'll keep tabs on the bill's progress and report back.

• Got a tip or thoughts on a cops and crime-related issue to share? Email copsandcrime@dailyherald.com.

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