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Pendulum Swing: Preparing Our First Responders

NCJ Number
Campus Law Enforcement Journal Volume: 36 Issue: 6 Dated: November/December 2006 Pages: 22-24
Terry Nichols
Date Published
November 2006
3 pages
After reviewing the history of how law enforcement agencies and personnel have responded to ongoing shootings and armed hostage incidents, particularly those involving school campuses, this article offers suggestions for the training of first-responder patrol officers in how to manage such incidents.
When Charles Whitman killed or wounded 45 people with a rifle he fired from the University of Texas tower in Austin, TX in 1966, he was finally killed by 2 patrol officers with little or no tactical training in handling such an incident. This event, along with several other major public safety events of the 1960s led to the development of police tactical units across the country. These special weapons and tactical (SWAT) teams continue to this day as the primary means of responding to ongoing shooting and hostage incidents. In the process, there has been a gradual erosion of the responsibilities of patrol officers who may arrive first at the scene. In such incidents, their work has been limited to moving people out of harm's way, setting a perimeter, and calling for the SWAT team to resolve the situation. This period of delay between a rapid first response that does not intervene directly in the shooting and the subsequent arrival of the SWAT team received harsh criticism after the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, CO in 1999. Since that time, there has been a focus on training first-responding patrol officers to intervene more directly prior to the arrival of the SWAT team. The training premise for first responders has one aim, i.e., to train patrol officers to move quickly to the sound of gunfire and put a stop to the violence. The tactics and means for doing this are covered in the training.