Active Shooter

Active Shooter

My students often ask me, “Mr. Moldenhauer, what’s the worst call cops could ever go on?”  My response is always the same, an active shooter call.  I have had my share of terrible calls in my career that will stay with me forever (i.e.  suicides, child deaths, and fatal car accidents just to name a few). However, I don’t feel any of these could ever be as bad as responding to an active shooter call.  

I couldn’t imagine the horror of showing up to a call that someone is actively killing innocent people.  We in law enforcement all took an oath to protect and serve. The trainings I have been to with my fellow brothers and sisters in blue makes me confident that we will do whatever we can to stop these horrible incidents as fast as humanely possible.

We have come a long way in training for these incidents.  I can remember when I first started as a police officer attending active shooter training, we had one goal in mind.  That goal was to take out the shooter as fast as possible.  While at training we would work on tactical and rapid response techniques on how to stop these violent suspects from killing innocent people. 

Taking out the shooter is still our number one priority. However, what do we do with the people that have been shot and are possibly dying?  We didn’t train on how to save these people when I first started. But now we have improved our training and adopted a new philosophy: STOP THE KILLING, STOP PEOPLE FROM DYING, GET THE INJURED TO A MEDICAL FACILITY.  We do this collaboratively with firefighters and EMS.

As police officers we must STOP THE KILLING.  After all, we are the ones with the guns and body armor.  We need to respond quickly. This was tough for us at first because we were taught that we may need to sacrifice our own safety to stop the killing.  When we would attempt to seek cover or use slower, more controlled tactics, our instructors would reprimand us and tell us to keep moving.  

They reminded us that every time we heard a gunshot, we were to presume someone was just killed.  Our instructors told us the priority of life goes as follows: lives of hostages, lives of innocent civilians, our own life, and lastly the killer’s life.  This was tough for us to get used to. Throughout the entire police academy and our careers, we were told officer safety is first priority.  However, in an active shooter incident, all bets are off and we may need to sacrifice our safety to persevere life.  

After the killer has been taken out or contained, we must STOP PEOPLE FROM DYING.  We do this by applying tourniquets on people and triaging severe injuries as quick as possible.  Several trainings I have been in lately have included assistance from firefighters and EMS personnel.  We form teams of firefighters and EMS personnel, protected by police officers, to assist in getting the most severely injured victims out as quick as possible.  

I am happy we have incorporated firefighters and EMS personnel into our training. I commend them for their bravery to enter these violent scenes with us.  Working together has produced some impressive results.  Our final priority is to GET THE INJURED TO A MEDICAL FACILITY.  Once the victims are outside the hazard zone, fire and EMS have the primary responsibility for triaging, treating and transporting. 

Something to keep in mind with training for active shooter incidents with your department is to keep the training as real as possible.  When we train in controlled environments, where we can slowly go through our tactical evolutions, results are near perfect.  However, the minute we introduce stress into the scenarios, police officer behavior changes and it impacts our performance. 

For example, we may introduce stress by arming the shooter and officers with simulated ammunition (i.e., paintballs) and crank up scary music with screaming and gunshots. This changes everything!  Armed with simulated ammunition, I have witnessed police officers, put under stress, shoot other police officers when they round corners, police officers shoot other police officers in the back, officers freeze in doorways and I have witnessed a complete breakdown of communications among teams.

You may recall from my previous article titled “Do We Train to Fail”, I noted practice makes permanent.  When we respond to one of these horrific calls we must be prepared to handle the extreme stress we are going to encounter.  Training that requires officers to perform under highly stressful conditions will improve critical thinking skills and tactical performance.

KEY TAKEAWAY

Situational awareness is key to officer survival and will help us save as many lives as possible when dealing with an active shooter.  Consider conducting mental rehearsals of active shooter scenarios. During a mental rehearsal you would image yourself in an active shooter situation and think through what the environment would be like. Imagine using all of your senses (e.g., what would you be seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting and smelling). Vividly imagine the situation in as much detail as you can.  

Practice “if-then” decision scenarios. For example, you might think: If I was in a hallway and I heard a gunshot on the floor above me, then I would ________ (fill in the blank).  Rehearse as many “if-then” scenarios as you could imagine, building complexity into the scenarios as you gain confidence.  

One of the benefits of mental rehearsals is two-fold.  First, mental rehearsals can reduce surprises.  Our critical thinking skills can be impacted by the element of surprise.  When you find yourself in a real-world situation that you’ve mentally rehearsed, you won’t be surprised.  You’ll be expecting it and you will have already thought through one (or more) decision options.  

The second advantage of mental rehearsals is they will help improve our prediction skills.  In active shooter situations, we have to always be thinking ahead of our current action – being mindful of not only what is happening right now, but also thinking about what is going to happen next (e.g., What’s going happen around the next corner?).

When practicing “if-then” scenarios and performing mental rehearsals, think beyond yourself.  Imagine the actions of other members of your team (e.g., other officers, fire, and EMS personnel who may be with you).  

Discussions

  1. Discuss how active shooter training under stress changes officer behavior.
     
  2. Discuss the benefits and challenges you can anticipate from working collaboratively with your local fire departments and EMS provider.

  3. Share some examples of mental rehearsals you have performed. 

  4. Share some of the specific “if-then” scenarios you have practiced.

 

About the authors:

Drew W. Moldenhauer, M.S, has 15 years of Law Enforcement experience with two police organizations in Minnesota. Some of the titles he has held in his tenure are Active Shooter Instructor, Use of Force Instructor, Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Instructor and Field Training Officer. He is currently a full-time licensed police officer that works part-time with the City of Osseo Police Department. He holds a Master’s Degree of Science in Public Safety Executive Leadership from St. Cloud State University. He is a Master Instructor in Situational Awareness and has a passion for training his clients in this very important subject.

Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, CSP is widely considered a trusted authority on human factors, situational awareness and the high-risk decision making processes used in high-stress, high consequence work environments. He served 33 years on the front lines as a firefighter, EMT-Paramedic, company officer, training officer, fire chief and emergency incident commander.  His doctoral research included the study of cognitive neuroscience to understand how human factors flaw situational awareness and impact high-risk decision making.

 

Fatigue Can Impact Police Officer Safety

Fatigue Can Impact Police Officer Safety

Research has shown that fatigue can impact situational awareness in disturbing ways. Some police officers think if they take a “safety nap” it will help. And in a small way, it may help. Any rest is better than no rest. However, a nap does not resolve systemic fatigue. Rest is a critical component to brain function and when there is not adequate rest or disrupted sleep cycles, the impact can be real and measurable.

Some scientists have described the behavior of research participants suffering from fatigue as displaying the same qualities as a person who is intoxicated. When you think about the critical nature of police officer decision making, fatigue can have catastrophic consequences.

The schedules of some police departments are not conducive to adequate rest. I remember working 12-hour shifts from 6 pm – 6 am and then having to be at traffic court by 9 am.  Sometimes court would run from 9 am – 12 pm and then I would have to go home, try and get some sleep, and be back for my shift at 6 pm.

This schedule significantly impacted both my mood and my job performance.  Other times, I would work 6 pm – 6 am and be informed from a supervisor that a day shifter had called in sick and they needed me to cover the shift until 10 am or noon.  This would make for some long hours awake and, thinking back, it severely impacted situational awareness, my decision making, and thus, my safety.

There is a reason truck drivers and airplane pilots are required (by law) to get a certain number of hours of sleep between shifts. Yet, police officers have no such requirement. Police Officers are expected to make high-risk, split-second decisions that could possibly take someone’s life and we aren’t required to have a certain number of hours of sleep between shifts.  I believe this is something we need to work on changing.

Police officers may believe if they feel physically rested, they are mentally rested. When the body rests, physically, the brain does not rest. In fact, the brain is surprisingly active while the body is resting, suggesting the body rests so the brain may have access to the glucose (energy) to do its heavy lifting. And what is the brain doing while you sleep? The research of neuroscientists tells us our brains are sorting through all the data from our previous waking period, cataloging the events into memory for future use. Hence, fatigue can not only impact short-term performance and memory, it can also impact long-term recall.

Got a perplexing problem? Sleeping on it really does help! 

KEY TAKEAWAY

Police officers who work long hours should be provided with opportunities to rest their brains. It’s not a matter of being lazy as some uninformed people may suggest. It’s a matter of personal safety and quality of care to the citizens they serve.  Ask yourself who you would want taking care of your community, a well-rested police officer or one that is mentally fatigued?

Everyday life:

Sleep is very important in our lives.  Think of the last time you didn’t get enough sleep.  How did this affect you?  Find some time in your busy schedule to wind down and get some rest.  Try to avoid watching TV at night and instead read a book or listen to soft music before bedtime.

Remember, the consequences of fatigue impacts you as well as others around you.

Discussions

  1. Discuss a time when your situational awareness and decision quality was impacted from being fatigued.
  2. Share some ideas about how to obtain adequate rest while working extended shifts.
  3. Share some tips for getting adequate rest when off-duty?

 

Written by:

Drew W. Moldenhauer, M.S, has 15 years of Law Enforcement experience with two police organizations in Minnesota. Some of the titles he has held in his tenure are Active Shooter Instructor, Use of Force Instructor, Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Instructor and Field Training Officer. He is currently a full-time licensed police officer that works part-time with the City of Osseo Police Department. He holds a Master’s Degree of Science in Public Safety Executive Leadership from St. Cloud State University. He is a Certified Master Instructor for Situational Awareness Matters and has a passion for training his clients on this very important subject.

Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, CSP is widely considered a trusted authority on human factors, situational awareness and the high-risk decision making processes used in high-stress, high consequence work environments. He served 33 years on the front lines as a firefighter, EMT-Paramedic, company officer, training officer, fire chief and emergency incident commander.  His doctoral research included the study of cognitive neuroscience to understand how human factors flaw situational awareness and impact high-risk decision making.  He is the founder and CEO for Situational Awareness Matters, a teaching and consulting organization located in Saint Paul, Minnesota.  He can be reached at [email protected]

Do We Train To Fail?

Do We Train To Fail?

Is it possible to erode a police officer’s situational awareness and to train a police officer to fail? Absolutely! I have seen it often. In fact, I still see it at police academies, on YouTube Videos and during police officer training sessions.

There was a time when I didn’t see it. In fact, I was one of those instructors who were training police officers to fail. I didn’t realize I was doing it. No instructor would train a police officer to fail on purpose. But, accidentally, it’s happening all the time and the consequences can be catastrophic.

I remember when I was in the academy and we would do a variety of training to get us ready for our careers as police officers.  One of the drills we would train on was felony stops.  Felony stops were intended for when we would pull someone over that had just committed a felony level crime or had a felony warrant.

We would first learn to put space between our squad car and the suspects car.  This was to give us more reaction time and create a safe distance from the suspect.  We would then exit our squad, take cover behind our driver side door and call the suspect back to us.  We would then either have the suspect lay on the ground or kneel.  Our partners would come up and handcuff the suspect, search, and secure them in the back of the squad car.  The drill would run smoothly, and officers would feel good after it was all done.  However, without even knowing it we were training to fail.

How were we training to fail?  Well, in law enforcement we learn the difference between cover and concealment. Cover is something we can hide behind that will stop bullets from hitting us (e.g., a brick wall, the engine block of a vehicle).

Concealment is something we can hide behind that bullets can penetrate (e.g., a car door, bushes, sheetrock).  In the felony stop drill we were concealing ourselves behind the car door of our squad, which bullets can penetrate.  Instead we should be angling our squad cars and hiding behind the engine block of the squad, while giving the suspect orders.  We were training to fail, we were placing ourselves behind concealment instead of cover.  This could have catastrophic effects if a suspect were to exit their vehicle and begin shooting at us.

KEY TAKEAWAY

The lesson here is that under stress, we become creatures of habit. Our brain will instruct our body to perform exactly how we were programmed to perform based mostly on memorization and repetition. This is true when recalling cognitive information (e.g., people’s names and email addresses). It is also the case with muscle memory (i.e., the physical movements tied to performing a task). Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent! This can lead to eroding a police officer’s situational awareness and in stressful environments police officers can revert right back to how they were trained.  Let’s train for success not failure!

Everyday life:

Think of when you trained a friend or your teen on how to change a flat tire on a vehicle.  This training usually takes place in nice the controlled safe environment of a clean garage (unless it’s my garage).  In reality, they will probably be changing a flat tire on the side of a busy road with a lot of traffic cars passing by, often at a high rate of speed.  Have they been trained when it is unsafe to change that tire and call a tow truck instead?  If they haven’t been trained on this alternate decision, this could lead to poor situational awareness and they could get struck by a passing vehicle operated by an inattentive driver.

Discussions

  • Look at your department’s training programs. Can you identify areas where you may be training to fail?
  • If you can identify areas where your department is training to fail, discuss solutions so that officers can avoid catastrophic mistake. Example: Have your officers ever thrown stop sticks during training from behind cover? Remember practice makes permanent.

The most important objective is for police officers to go home at the end of their shift. Training for success plays an important role in improving situational awareness and high-risk decision making.

Written By:

Drew W. Moldenhauer, M.S, has 15 years of Law Enforcement experience with two police organizations in Minnesota. Some of the titles he has held in his tenure are Active Shooter Instructor, Use of Force Instructor, Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Instructor and Field Training Officer. He is currently a full-time licensed police officer that works part-time with the City of Osseo Police Department. He holds a Master’s Degree of Science in Public Safety Executive Leadership from St. Cloud State University. He is a Master Instructor in Situational Awareness and has a passion for training his clients in this very important subject.

 

Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, CSP is widely considered a trusted authority on human factors, situational awareness and the high-risk decision making processes used in high-stress, high consequence work environments. He served 33 years on the front lines as a firefighter, EMT-Paramedic, company officer, training officer, fire chief and emergency incident commander.  His doctoral research included the study of cognitive neuroscience to understand how human factors flaw situational awareness and impact high-risk decision making.