How law enforcement are trained to respond during an active shooter situation

Agencies across US have similar guidelines, says security consultant

SAN ANTONIO – The Columbine High School shooting 23 years ago changed how law enforcement officers respond to an active shooter. The guidelines are similar across law enforcement agencies -- make entry and stop the killing.

RELATED: Authorities took an hour to stop Uvalde gunman, raising questions about law enforcement response

After a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary in Uvalde on Tuesday, Sheriff Javier Salazar detailed the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office policy list that deputies need to keep in mind every day should they encounter an active shooter:

  • Don’t wait for SWAT. Remember Active Shooter Response Protocols and do what needs to be done with no wasted time.
  • Make sure body armor and all weapons are ready to go.
  • Remember first aid and tourniquet training.
  • Avoid complacency.
  • Know that any call can go wrong at any time.
  • Never cancel cover.

The San Antonio Police Department’s policy is the same.

Ryan Searles, a security consultant with IMEG Corp and a former active shooter trainer, says the procedures are very similar across the nation.

“The primary goal of law enforcement during an active shooter is really to accomplish two things -- one, stop the killing. And two, stop the dying,” he said.

That means neutralizing the shooter and then providing medical treatment to those injured.

“We learned from Columbine. You can’t sit outside and wait while kids are getting shot inside. You need to make entry right away, whether you’re a single officer or you’re waiting for your contact team,” Searles said.

But every scenario is different, and officers have to be ready to switch gears at a moment’s notice.

Though Searles is not privy to the mass shooting investigation in Uvalde, he said the training is standardized so that everybody can respond in the same way when mutual aid is called.

“An active shooter scene can change very quickly from an active shooter to barricaded suspect. As long as they make entry into a room and they’re barricaded, and no shots are fired, it’s now not treated as an active shooter event. It’s treated as a barricaded suspect,” Searles said.

That’s when backup teams, like SWAT, are called.

“But as soon as a single shot is fired, it is a switch from a barricaded suspect immediately back to an active shooter, and you have to make entry. You can’t wait outside the classroom. You make entry right away, and you mitigate that threat,” Searles said.

He said keeping communities and schools safe entails a combination of proper training and security upgrades to ensure doors, windows and other barriers are in place to keep dangerous suspects out.


About the Authors

Patty Santos joined the KSAT 12 News team in July 2017. She has a proven track record of reporting on hard-hitting news that affects the community.

Joe Arredondo is a photojournalist at KSAT 12.

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