San Bernardino Highlights How Police Respond To Active Shooter Situations NPR's Robert Siegel interviews Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, about how police departments around the country are trained to respond to active shooting situations.

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San Bernardino Highlights How Police Respond To Active Shooter Situations

San Bernardino Highlights How Police Respond To Active Shooter Situations

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NPR's Robert Siegel interviews Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, about how police departments around the country are trained to respond to active shooting situations.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Police lieutenant Mike Madden heard the dispatch about an active shooter on Wednesday on his way to lunch. The San Bernardino officer was the first cop on the scene.

LIEUTENANT MIKE MADDEN: My goal was to assemble an entry team and enter into the building to engage the active shooter. We wanted to get in there and we wanted to stop any further innocent people from being injured and possibly killed.

SIEGEL: Madden, a 24-year veteran, is normally a desk officer these days, but in this situation, he had to act immediately. And to help us understand what sort of training police have to deal with this kind of situation, we've called on Chuck Wexler. He's executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum. He's joining us in the studio.

Welcome to the program.

CHUCK WEXLER: Nice to be here.

SIEGEL: What are police forces teaching cadets these days about active shooter situations?

WEXLER: Well, in these situations, time is your enemy in the sense that these things unfold so quickly that Madden, an administrative officer on his lunch break, would see fit to activate himself and get there because he knew time was of his essence. This is completely different. And it all changed, as you know, in Columbine, where they waited.

SIEGEL: Is the difference that at one time, the police might've assumed there would be a hostage situation, there would be negotiations, and now they fear that there may just be mass murder - that may be the point of it?

WEXLER: Right. That's what came out of Columbine, is that waiting will cost lives. So as in San Bernardino, what Madden did was to head there himself, even though he was a desk officer. That says a lot about the department, that they all were trained to act quickly, even if other officers weren't there to back him up.

SIEGEL: He used a phrase - he said, my goal was to assemble an entry team.

WEXLER: Right.

SIEGEL: Obviously you don't want individual police officers to arrive some place and each one of them enter the building independently.

WEXLER: You hope that you can get other officers with you, but what we learned when we brought a bunch of top experts together is sometimes officers may have to go by themselves. If they hear gunfire, if it's actively going on, they may have to go in by themselves. And in those situations where there is active fire, one third of those officers will be shot at and may die.

SIEGEL: Is there now some uniform standard of tactics for dealing with these things, or does it vary from department to department?

WEXLER: That's one of the challenges in American policing because you have 18,000 police agencies. Ninety percent of them are 50 officers or less. It's hard to have uniform standards. But I think some of the general principles of assembling a team, being prepared to go in without reinforcements is pretty much the norm.

SIEGEL: I think a lot of us have seen images on television of the police surrounding a car with their own vehicles, also battering down the door to an apartment with a vehicle that's apt for that purpose. And it looked pretty military to me, I have to say. After Ferguson, there was a lot of outcry over the militarization of the police. Do these situations make police think, you know, it's a pretty good thing for us to be almost military?

WEXLER: Well, I think that's a terrific point you make because that is the case after Ferguson. Certainly there was a lot of talk about the militarization of police. However, in these situations, you are dealing with someone who is trying to kill people, and the police need to be armed with the proper equipment and they need the kind of vehicles that would get them there. So I would just say that this puts the whole militarization issue in perspective. By and large, everyday policing does not need to look like the military, but in these kind of rare circumstances, they need to be prepared.

SIEGEL: If in fact the wisdom these days about active shooter situations is time is your enemy, that cuts down on the amount of time to try to figure out if that's a terrorist or a crazy person, whether that's somebody who might take hostages or might lay down his weapon or not.

WEXLER: Well, that's what you need training for. In the active shooter situation, it's really very clear. If you get there and you hear gunfire, something is still going on. You need to take action. In other kinds of situations where people might have edge weapons or rocks or things like that are where you begin communication, and you can de-escalate it. But this is all new. Much of this is how policing in America is changing, and there's so much that hangs in the balance. These are life-and-death decisions.

SIEGEL: Chuck Wexler, thanks for talking with us.

WEXLER: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Mr. Wexler is executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum.

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