After the shootings at Columbine High School, we’re told, law enforcement and use of force experts gathered to figure out how to do it better. A consensus was reached that cops should, instead of staying outside and establishing a perimeter and awaiting SWAT, rush in. Not higgeldy-piggelty you understand, but rather in a diamond formation which is universally understood by local, county, state and federal law enforcement officers.
Four officers advance in a tight diamond shape, essentially back to back, with one leading (point), one at left flank, one at right flank and one at rear guard. Obviously the dynamics changing mean that left flank becomes point at certain points – in fact, any player can become point should the situation warrant.
We spent the morning going over this, and Flanders, in his repetitive style, saying that this was to be used when there were active shooters – someone committing mass murder, who has killed and will likely kill again. It is not, he said repeatedly, to be used in hostage scenarios, or against a barricaded suspect, or for anything which is not a Homicide In Progress.
Much of Active Shooter, he explains, is the polar opposite of building search; we want to keep moving through the building, looking for the killer, not search each room carefully and methodically. There are other tactical differences which, again, are not appropriate for this forum.
After the classroom portion, we went out to Misery City to run some scenarios. I was interested to see that I shot a civilian – rushing towards me – and later in the day I shot a cop who had, against all rules, peeled away from me and was rushing up behind me. All I saw was a gun coming towards me quickly, in the chaos (ten people yelling in a darkened room will do that to you) and I fired at it. I realized later that the training I have done prior to the academy – a bunch of civilian response to terrorism and home clearing – didn’t prepare me at all for this role, and I need much more training to discern bad guy from good guy in these kinds of scenarios.
I played the bad guy in one scenario; Flanders told me that I was to shoot someone just before the diamond-team entered, then throw down the gun and put my hands up but yell lots of crazy shit. Which I did. They shouted “PO-LICE!*” and I shouted “NATIONAL GUARD!” and I started shouting things like “WHY ARE YOU POINTING GUNS AT ME???!!!” The team got me cuffed and on the ground, then moved on. As they moved away, Flanders motioned to me that I should get out of there, so, handcuffed, I rolled over, stood up and ran out the front door; with my cuffs still on, I reached into my waistband where I had secreted a second gun (the team hadn’t searched me when they cuffed me) and sneaked around the front of the building, ran up to an open window and shot the entire team deader than a hammer.
A post-mortem was conducted. The team acknowledged that they forgot to search me and also left me unguarded while looking for other shooters. Flanders asked GI Jane why she didn’t shoot me and Jane said, “Because he had no gun, his hands were up.” Glock said, “I wanted to shoot him because he just killed that woman and he was screaming so much he was preventing me from getting to other people who needed help.”
“Glock,” Flanders said, “We’re not a hit squad, we’re police officers. You can’t shoot him now for something he did five seconds ago – if he’s a threat you can stop the threat but if the threat’s over you can’t use deadly force.”
“But he was preventing me from assisting…” Glock began.
“No, you can’t shoot him. I’m gonna say I’m certain, Glock, you can’t shoot him.”
“But I could articulate…”
“No. Let’s move on.”
Later, outside, Glock said something that chilled my heart when Johnson told me about it later. Johnson was listening to Glock give the same argument, over and over, and said, “Glock, you can’t risk your life and career because you shot some guy based on some thin legal concept you have of his preventing you from rendering aid.” And Glock replied, “No jury in Texas would convict me of shooting a guy who’s been running through a building killing people.”
Oh. My. God. Speechless, I am.
The last exercise of the day was very secret, and I was teamed with Sig Winchester and Brad (the diamond can be adapted to work with three-man and two-man teams, basically your field of responsibility becomes 120 degrees or 180 degrees from the 90-degree field of the four-man diamond. We had to run about 200 yards at top speed in full gear (we’re armed with airsoft guns, which are the approximate size and weight of a Glock pistol, but shoot hard plastic pellets – these sting like a bastard but shouldn’t penetrate the skin; we also wear full face masks to a) protect against getting shot in the face with the pellet and b) to help simulate tunnel vision and hearing exclusion) and then arrive on the scene.
As we run up, a man is running towards us. “He’s got a gun, he’s gonna kill my friend! Hurry up, get in there! Get in there! What the fuck are you doing, get in there, he’s gonna kill my friend!” and the like. We push in. Immediately we come under fire. Instinctively I shoot back; I fire one shot and my gun jams. Flanders is standing behind a student, giving us no shot at all. He’s shouting crazy stuff, like, “Stop, you’re sending me messages to kill everyone, stop sending me messages!” And he withdraws, with his hostage, to the next room.
Brad grabs me and says, “Hostage situation!” I say, “Yeah!” and move to follow. Brad says again, “Hostage situation!” and I say again, “Yeah!”
Meanwhile, Sig, who has told us that he knows from experience of scores of actual raids on houses in Iraq and Afghanistan that he does not hear anything once inside, is covering the rear. We advance, and we’re all killed.
Flanders looks at us. “What happened?”
“It was a hostage situation,” Brad says.
“Are you supposed to enter in a hostage situation?” asks Flanders.
Oh, fuck. Flanders wasn’t being annoyingly repetitive this morning, he was giving us the answer to the final scenario.
We go out the other side of the building, so that none of the others can see us exit, and wait where we’re told. The scenario is repeated. None of our classmates succeed except Genesee’s group. They pull back.
Finally, Glock and Lindbergh go in. They’re in there for a long time.
A really long time.
Several times we hear prolonged volleys of sustained gunplay. Airsoft rounds are hitting the metal shutters of the windows and the metal doors (remember, these buildings are shared by police and fire academies, so when we’re not shooting in them, the fire guys are burning the buildings, so all the furniture is made of steel and all the buildings of concrete. In the restaurant, there’s a little cigar and candy stand outside filled with little steel treats, like “Rookie Skins” and “Cop Chips”. It’s actually pretty cool).
The guy from outside, the guy who was yelling at us to rush in and save his friend? He gets set to enter the building, it’s taking so long.
Finally they come out. We do a quick post-mortem briefing. Then they turn their attention to the last group.
“You guys were shooting a lot,” said Flanders, “I can state for a fact you had no shot at me – I’ve done this a lot, and there was no shot that I would take, and I’m a SWAT team sniper. Glock, you fired thirty seven rounds.”
Thirty seven rounds?
I’m distracted by some commotion to the right of me. The cadets are discussing the fact that Glock gave Lindbergh the following instruction, with regard to the potential entry of the “Man Outside Yelling To Save My Friend.” Glock said, “If that guy comes in here, put him down.”
Put him down.
Flanders continues speaking to Glock. “I mean, you came in, and you were talking to me, but I was telling you that I had a hostage and you didn’t leave, and then you engaged me in gunfire several times. You shot the hostage so many times I finally had to say to him, ‘Okay, you’re dead,’ and let him slump to the ground, and then after I did that and said that the exercise was terminated you shot me in the face and four times in the back.”
Clinton speaks up. “I knew Glock liked Glocks, so I gave him an extra magazine. You guys had ten shots each. He had two full mags.”
Flanders: “And Glock, you know, good magazine changes.”
Glock starts to say something, and Flanders interrupts him: “So basically, what Glock is hearing during this debriefing is ‘blah-blah-blah-blah-blah-blah-Good magazine changes-blah-blah-blah-blah.'”
I suppose I would be more concerned if I believed that Glock will ever get hired as a police officer, but I remain concerned. I think I will talk to my squad leader.
I learned a lot about how little I know. I am highly concerned that I don’t have sufficient training to go into a homicide in progress, and that my trained reflex led me to shoot civilians. However the cure, looking carefully at everyone, places me at risk of hesitating to shoot hen I need to. I am seeking additional training already, and have an agreement with several cadets – Sig, Johnson, GI Jane, Gary Cooper – to conduct realistic scenario training at my friend Clint’s shoot house. This is too important – it’s the low likelihood high-impact event that we all fear the most. Of one thing I am sure: on arrival at the scene, I will slow down, take several cleansing breaths and assess the scenario before entering. Never again will I allow the bystander to dictate my tempo.
And if a team member says something like, “Hostage Situation” and I don’t understand the implications of it, I’m going to say, “I don’t understand, what do you mean?”
* One of the things you might have noticed in all the writings I’ve done is the universal use of “PO-lice” as opposed to “police”. Down here, cops seem to say that, when yelled, “Police” can sound like “Please.” I don’t think we’re in the UK (where in some regions that could be a problem), and I think that when someone shouts something like, “Fort Worth Police, announce yourself or you’re gonna get fuckin’ shot‘ no one could possibly confuse “Police” with “Please”. Personally I think it’s done this way because people down here say “po-lice” (from where, I bet, derives the term, “po-po”), and any explanation for it is apocryphal at best.