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Jason Mosher

Sheriff's Journal

Vernon County Sheriff.

Facing danger, and going in alone

Saturday, August 22, 2015

On April 20, 1999, 12 students and one teacher were killed by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold who were both seniors at Columbine High School, located in an unincorporated area of Jefferson County, Colo. Most people have heard about the devastating shooting and remember seeing it on the news.

The shooting started a national debate on gun control as well as a slew of other issues. The events of this shooting also brought about a drastic change in some areas of law enforcement and changed the way officers respond to threats. Up until the shooting at Columbine, it was common practice for officers to wait for back-up or SWAT teams when there was an active shooter or a threat. This training resulted in officers staging outside of the school at Columbine instead of going in while the shooting was taking place. In the years after Columbine and other shootings that took place around the country, the way law enforcement responded to threats started changing.

For the last several years, the standard to active shooter training has made an about face, and the tactics being taught now are opposite from what they used to be. Instead of waiting for additional units, you go in. If you are the first officer on scene and you believe there is a danger to people inside, you go in and confront the suspect.

This type of thinking has evolved to include almost any kind of response from police. Regardless of whether it is an active shooter call, a domestic, burglary or any other type of crime, if you are there, you respond. This type of response is much more dangerous for the officer but follows the line of thinking that if someone is in danger, you are the only one that can help and you will do what you can.

In recent months, with more attention being placed on officers involved in shootings, many agencies are now starting to back away from that way of thinking and move back to the "wait for help" method. I believe some of this is because agency heads are becoming more afraid of lawsuits, riots, and negative media attention. I think this is taking a step in the wrong direction.

There are many critics in the Ferguson shooting who say that Officer Willison should have waited for back-up before trying to make contact with or detain Michael Brown. There have been several recent cases where officers are being fired because deadly force was used during a fight with the officer. The reason being given in some of these cases is that the officer should have "waited" to pursue the suspect until additional officers could arrive. The problem with this type of response is officers do not always know if a violent suspect is going to hurt someone else or not. That is why they teach us to assume suspects will.

Take the recent case in Texas where a new officer in training ran into a car dealership after a suspect that was attempting to break into a car. The officer chased the suspect into the dealership and at some point shot and killed the suspect. We do not know all the facts of what happened inside that building but one of the reasons given for that officer's termination was because he did not wait for his training officer to go in with him. I am going to assume that if someone would have been inside that building and the officer had saved them from the suspect, he would have been praised for his courage.

Law enforcement officers are human and they are going to make mistakes like anyone else, but we cannot tell them to risk their lives to save the innocent and then punish them for not standing by. If the shooting was not justified, then the officer should be held accountable, but saying he should not have chased the suspect is not a good reason to use. There is no crystal ball that tells the officer which person breaking the law will hurt someone else and which one is only planning to break the law without hurting anyone. We are here to protect the innocent, and we will do everything we can to accomplish that, even if it means going in alone.