A version of this article was published in the Personal Defense World, featuring Controlled F.O.R.C.E.
“There is no need to sugarcoat the topic, our country is out of control when it comes to mass shootings. For this reason, Personal Defense World is taking an active role in looking into the topic of mass shooter response. And we recently sat down with instructors at CONTROLLED F.O.R.C.E. to get their thoughts on the subject of mass shootings in the United States.
The Realities of a Mass Shooter Event
This article is hitting way too close to home for me. I was at my son’s 22nd birthday party yesterday when his stepfather sat down next to me looking exhausted and lost. He looked at me and said, “It’s been a long, rough day.”
I asked him if he was coming from the office and he replied, “No, my daughter is a bartender for Playo’s Nightclub in Gary Indiana, and someone walked in and shot the place up this morning, while she was working.”
For the record, we are both thanking God that his daughter, my children’s stepsister, is ok, but she is traumatized. People that she knew, people that were killed—her friends— and their family members were not so lucky. As of this morning (6/13/22), I am watching reports and information about the shooting on the news.
This has to stop. People can easily say “well, it was Gary so it’s to be expected.” They would be wrong. If it were to be expected, people would not have been hanging out there, having a good time just enjoying themselves when the suspect opened fire.
The fact is mass shootings and attacks are happening everywhere and cannot be ignored. Schools, places of worship, retail centers, and nightclubs—in all classes of neighborhoods—are becoming frequent targets of the clearly mentally and emotionally unstable. No matter the root cause of these horrendous acts of violence, the result is always the same; someone died when they did not have to.
An Honest Look at Current Responses
So, in today’s article, I rounded up a group of tactical instructors that have law enforcement and/or military backgrounds. In our round-table discussion, we dive in and see what law enforcement agencies and schools are doing right and discuss some ideas on how they can improve when it comes to a mass shooter response.
It is a tough subject, so let me introduce you to today’s team at the table without further delay.
Personal Defense World: Hey guys, thanks for joining us. Please introduce yourself and tell us what you offer regarding public mass shootings, school shootings, gun violence and law enforcement?
Aaron: My name is Aaron “Moose” Murauskas. I am the Senior Director of Administration and a Master Instructor at Controlled F.O.R.C.E. Inc.
Rob: My name is Rob Sarra. I am the State, Local, and Education Manager, as well as Firearms, tactics, and situational awareness Instructor at Controlled F.O.R.C.E.
Jeff: My name is Jeff Patterson. I was with the Us Air Force 10 years. Likewise, I was a Homeland Security contractor and have been on the job with IMPD for the past 24 years as a patrol officer. I am a Defensive Tactics Instructor, Use of Force subject matter expert, and Currently teach Active Shooter, Situational Awareness, and Verbal De-escalation classes.
PDW: What is your background in Law Enforcement and/or Military?
Aaron: Law Enforcement; I have worked at municipal, county, and state university agencies. In addition, I served in multiple capacities from Patrol, Detective, SWAT, RRT, and Administration.
Jeff: Oops, I already answered that before you asked. Don’t hit me, Johnny. *laughs*
Rob: Both! 10 years US Marine Corps in the Infantry—Combat veteran, Iraq, 2003. I have also been an Illinois Law Enforcement Officer since 2005 and am currently working in a small suburb of Chicago in a part-time capacity.
PDW: Ok, let’s get into it. There have been almost three hundred school shootings in the United States since the beginning of the 21st century. Clearly a lot of mental illness out there. Thoughts?
Jeff: Mental health has a lot to do with it. So does social media, it’s a shame. One mass murder is too many.
Rob: One school shooting is one too many.
Aaron: Way too many public mass shootings. Way too many families mourning shooting victims.
PDW: As active or retired law enforcement, what do you think cops/departments are doing well when it comes to preparing to respond to an active shooter?
Rob: As an active-duty Law Enforcement Officer, and training officer, specifically firearms and tactics, including a rapid response. However, I think that more can always be done.
We had a massive shift in response tactics after Columbine High School. The standard up until that time was “set a perimeter, wait for SWAT.” This tactic resulted in the offenders at Columbine killing thirteen and injuring 21. Which led to the creation of the “Rapid Deployment” concept.
Departments today are getting good training, at the lowest officer level, in basic tactics. Which allows them to be effective in their response to mass killings and stop the threat as soon as possible. This has also led to RTF (Rescue Task Force) training, with multiple jurisdictions and fire departments working together in scenario-based training.
Aaron: Training Boards, Leadership, and Departments are doing well in acquiring equipment and strategizing response planning. There is also a good focus on tools and technology to aid in response. In addition, Officers are seeking out and attending training on their own to supplement Department or Training Board-approved courses.
Jeff: I think most departments give their officers basically the same training. With budget cuts, mandated training, and time restraints, there is only so much departments can do for the average street cop. It comes down to the individual officer and the decisions they make at the time of the event.
PDW: What do you think they can do better?
Aaron: Make their training intentional. They must focus on practicing with the tools and technologies that they are employing. They must focus on integrating responses from multiple resources and create training iterations that compound skills in a variety of key areas. For example, if running a scenario-based school shooting exercise, they should incorporate as many stakeholders as possible to culminate the exercise as a test of capability.
Rob: There is always room for improvement when it comes to policing. Researching and implementing new techniques is already being done but can be improved upon. When it comes to training for these incidents, officers shouldn’t just “check the box.”
Line supervisors, instructors, and administrative leadership need to assure that each one of their officers has the mindset, and at least a proficiency, in response.
Jeff: Again, for the most part, I feel that departments are doing what they can. As terrible as shootings are (and they would never just come out and say this), departments would find it difficult to make Active Shooting, or any one subject, a priority.
PDW: Let’s change directions. What do you think schools are doing well when it comes to preparing/responding, or training their staff to respond, to a Mass Shooter?
Aaron: Tough Question. As a general reply, they are investing in systems and supports to assist physical security and completing, albeit nominal, training on response actions.
Jeff: Schools are making sure visitors come in one main/locked entry point and hiring School Resource Officers. They should make it a priority to be sure all exterior doors are shut and locked and have consequences for those who leave them open.
Rob: I think the “appearance” of preparation and response is there. However, the practices themselves are lacking. If security measures are put in place, but then either ignored or not enforced, it does no good.
PDW: What do you think they can do better?
Rob: Have teachers, students, and staff claim ownership of their own security. Be aware, close a propped door, and report it to someone. If a student or staff member is acting “off,” tell someone.
Aaron: Establish a culture of security by empowering students, faculty, and staff to act. Employ a Behavioral Threat Assessment team to address mental illness or health issues that could be a safety breach. Test your systems; the best access control measures can be defeated if the door is propped.
Also, make use of public/private partnerships to bolster security presence and establish the aforementioned. You know, working in a large urban area plagued with gun violence and mass shootings, it is common for universities to use private security to support campus safety operations.
PDW: What type of training do Police Departments typically use?
Aaron: Police Departments? A variety of training programs that focus on response tactics. This could be in partnership with an outside entity or certifying one of their own through a train-the-trainer program. In fact, some departments will simply give a cadre a concurrent assignment to create a training platform.
Jeff: Initial training comes at the recruit/basic level where departments use lectures and scenario-based training, usually taught by SWAT/Tactical officers.
Rob: Police departments have a plethora of training from tactical response to de-escalation, defensive tactics, and so on. States have training mandates for in-service training that need to be met by every officer. However, if you are asking about Active Threat tactical training, there is not a single standard.
PDW: What kind of training should they add?
Aaron: Training that focuses on building skillset development. An Officer should not be considering what tactics to employ (RRID, MACTAC, etc.) when a shooting occurs. They should be focused on the task at hand and the skills that help them through it.
The training should have fluidity to measure comprehension, integration of resources, and the culmination of exercises to test. Additional stress inoculation never hurts either.
Rob: Definitely stress-induced training.
Jeff: Scenario-based training has proven to be monumentally successful. The problem, especially with larger departments, is the lack of time to train and the resources needed to accomplish this type of training.
PDW: What kind of training would be useful for school staff and security?
Jeff: Situational Awareness training should be pushed to school staff. From the front office staff to maintenance staff. Everybody has a role to play.
Rob: Mass Shooter response and communication with responding law enforcement. The onsite security professional or staff member is going to be the eyes and ears of our response until we get into the building.
Aaron: On the surface, school shooting response strategies. On a deeper level, situational awareness, de-escalation as a preventative maintenance measure, and at some level, self-defense.
PDW: What is the worst public perception when it comes to law enforcement and school shootings?
Rob: Right now, police are in a “damned if we do, damned if we don’t” light with the public. Police have been, and continue to be, painted with a broad brush. As a result, decisions that are made in a split second are then second-guessed and opinions are formed, without knowing all the facts of the incident. These “opinions” then go out into the internet world and become “fact.”
Jeff: Most recently the public perception is that police are incompetent and scared.
Aaron: The police are living through that perception right now, and current events don’t help. On a bigger scale, the last 2 years have been terribly difficult for police. Every incident is viewed as either “too much, too soon” or “too little, too late.”
PDW: How can local communities get better involved?
Aaron: They can own a portion of this responsibility and be accountable to it. The reality is there are complicated decisions and financial concerns at stake. I have seen schools fold their security department to open finances for a football stadium, only to suffer gun violence later. The community, the parents, and the local businesses have a vested interest in the success of the school and should be intentional with actions that posit that idea as true.
Rob: Talk with your school administrators about school safety. Ask what is being done to keep your children safe. If you do not get the answers you want, or something is not adding up (i.e., “we don’t have funding” or “it won’t happen here”), press the issue with the school board.
Jeff: Attend Citizen Academies and take advantage of ride-a-longs that departments offer, so they can see what officers actually go through.
PDW: Any final words of advice for our readers?
Jeff: Police obviously play a key role in Mass Shooter events, but what are some things that can be done by facilities before the events happen? We need to take a real look at hardening facilities/businesses/schools and arming staff at these locations.
Aaron: When you find yourself in one of these situations, you must free your mind and focus on the tasks at hand. One task at a time, with the most challenging task first.
Rob: Get training. Situational awareness helps you in your everyday life. Medical training such as “stop the bleed” courses are outstanding and are proven to save lives. If you are in an emergency, ACT. Do something. Staying on the scene (if it is safe), calling 911, and giving the dispatcher clear and concise information for responding officers or medical personnel is key.