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Preparing for Mass Shootings and Other Disasters: What Would Peel Do?

By Andrew Bell, faculty member, Criminal Justice with American Military University and Bruce Razey, 35-year police veteran

In the wake of the latest mass shootings in Las Vegas and more recently in Texas, the debate on gun control wages on. It’s not likely the Second Amendment will ever be repealed, so how do we address the growing number of mass shootings?

Even if the Amendment was repealed and automatic weapons or “bump stocks” were banned (as they just were in Massachusetts), the jury is out on the impact this would have on future mass shootings. In the Las Vegas shooting, for example, there is currently no evidence that the gunman gave any indication of his intent and there are no accomplices.

In cases like this, I find myself muttering “I guess there is really nothing we can do.” Then I remember—as if it were an epiphany—that when I was a police supervisor I told my officers they should never believe there is nothing they can do because with a little thought, there is always something that can be done!

Peelian Principles and Policing

Regardless of whether you are a proponent of gun control, we can likely agree that preventing and managing crime is not easy. No one knew this more than Sir Robert Peel, who served twice as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1834-1835 and 1841-1846) and established the Metropolitan Police Force in London.

Peel is known by many as the father of modern policing and police experts credit him for generating the basic principles and ethical standards in the relationship between the police and the public. Peel believed it was the responsibility of both the public and government to prevent and manage crime.

I often find myself wondering, “What would Peel do?”

What Would Peel Do?

I think Peel would do as he did in 19th Century London, directing his initial efforts to what government and citizens (not just police) could do together. The police have numerous options in terms of infrastructure, weapons, intelligence, and training. At the same time, following “Peelian Principles,” which are the ideas Peel developed to define an effective police force, would enable us to utilize the police-public relationship to plan more efficiently and effectively to prevent and mitigate harm caused by future incidents.

[Related: Healing Divisions Between Police and the Public]

One way to do that is through critical incident planning. A critical incident is any event where there is potential for mass casualties: shootings, accidents, and/or natural disasters. First and foremost, experts know that with any mass-casualty incident, time is of the utmost importance.

Starting with a “profile” to plan ahead will save time during and after a critical incident. This police tool came into use in the wake of the Columbine School Massacre. Law enforcement and the general public knew they had to do more to protect children and mitigate these events. This future planning needed to be more in line with Peel’s principle that states, “Police are the public and the public are the police.” In this case, “profiling” is not the analysis of a person’s psychological or behavioral characteristics to predict future behavior. Rather, it’s a key post-incident police tool.

Creating a Profile for Potential Critical Incidents

Starting with a profile to plan ahead will save time during and after a critical incident. A profile (plan) is a document that can be stored at the police department (on computer and/or paper) to be readily available when needed. Profiles are based on the infrastructure characteristics of places considered potential “High Value Targets” (a military term for locations a criminal/terrorist/lone wolf might exploit). Characteristics are the physical information you know at the present time; buildings, streets, and public utilities are not likely to change in and around a target area.

A profile identifies potential locations of a critical incident and includes things like their address, owner, manager, responsible persons, and additional security at the location. Examples of potential subjects are schools, government buildings or venues like a music festival. Other locations to profile also include group meetings or staging rallies involving government officials, celebrities, or controversial groups like neo-Nazi or pro-life groups.

Remember, this exercise is guided by the Peelian Principle that states: “Police are the public and the public are the police.” Profiles should be developed by police in conjunction with other city agencies (fire, rescue, public works, as well as state and federal law enforcement), and the public (profit and non-profit) businesses and organizations.

Agencies must plan, train and equip first responders to meet potential threats. To that end, first responders are no longer told to wait for SWAT to arrive before entering buildings to confront suspects with weapons. In addition, not only must police be trained, but organizations and businesses should start training civilians on what to do before, during and after an active shooter incident.

Why Civilians Must Be Trained to Understand Tactics, Techniques, Procedures

Civilians should familiarize themselves with established tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) for dealing with active shooter situations.

[Related: Departments Must Train Citizens to be First Responders During Active Shootings]

For example, one’s first instinct in an active shooter situation might be to run. The basic rule is the farther away you are from the gunman, the less likely you will be a target. Of course, that’s if you know where the gunman is. If not, you might be running the wrong way. That’s why understanding different TTPs, and using cover and concealment, could be essential.

Some simple training on the difference between cover and concealment can save your life. Cover can stop a bullet. You could take cover behind a brick wall, car (engine block), a mailbox, or a building. However, with rifles and automatic weapons with high caliber bullets that can travel through steel, true cover may be difficult to find.

[Related: Preparing for the Unthinkable: The Value of Citizen Responders at the Las Vegas Shooting]

Concealment is using an object to block the shooter from seeing you. Concealment will not stop a bullet. However, the interesting thing about concealment and the mind of a shooter is that if the shooter does not know where you are, they are not likely to shoot. That is why the “shelter in place” tactic is used to direct people into buildings or rooms where they can lock the door and hide. In most cases if you must choose between running for concealment or staying in the open, select concealment.

[Related: Teaching Students How to Think Dynamically During a Mass Shooting]

In addition, cops in the area or citizens with legal weapons permits should not approach the shooter. Cops and citizens with permits are likely carrying handguns. Automatic rifles trump handguns and especially if you don’t know where the shooter is, pulling out a gun is not a good idea unless you actually see the shooter.

Technology and Decision-Making

In the future, technology may be the greatest tool in facilitating police-public partnerships in crime prevention and management. Gunshot detection technology (i.e., Boomerang, ShotSpotter, etc.) promises to detect the location of the shooter. Other smartphone technology, like mobile apps, also offers real-time intelligence on gunfire to law enforcement. So why don’t all agencies have it? Cost is one thing. The other is that some cities that have the technology claim that false alarms and lack of accuracy can actually increase police workload without an effective return on investment. However, future development of this technology is promising.

[Related: Unintended Consequences of Technology in Policing]

Other technology like real-time crime reporting applications are currently available and used by police and citizen volunteers who download the app. One such program called Connect Protect app was developed by three Virginia Police Departments in conjunction with Hampton University.

It is likely that in the future, advancements in smartphone technology (like stronger mics or frequency devices) will soon make this type of crime prevention technology more available and reliable.

Even with these technological advancements, departments will (with cause) rely on human decision-making for command and control. That’s why we must mobilize communities to respond to critical incidents. By maximizing crime prevention and management efforts between police and the public we can save time and lives. Just as Peel predicted.

If you like this article, see our book “Cops of Acadia,” which is based on real-life stories of police in action.

About the Authors:

healing divisionsAndrew Bell has more than 20 years of law enforcement experience and 25 years in the U.S. military and civilian service. He served as a patrol officer, detective, patrol sergeant, community-policing supervisor, school resource supervisor and detective supervisor. He was called to active duty with U.S. Army Reserve after 9/11 and completed a tour in Afghanistan. Andrew also worked for the U.S. federal government in Army intelligence, Army capabilities unit and emergency operations. He holds a master’s degree in public administration and a bachelor of science degree with a concentration in criminal justice. Andrew has been a faculty member with American Military University since 2004.

healing divisionsBruce Razey began his law enforcement career in 1975. During his 35-year career, he worked for three diverse police departments. Bruce served in patrol operations, special operations and the investigative division. His assignments included field training officer, air unit coordinator/observer, field training supervisor, community policing supervisor, detective supervisor and committee chairman for internal affairs review unit. He served on numerous hiring and promotional boards; authored and co-authored policies and procedures; created lesson plans to instruct new and veteran officers in a variety of topics; and established policy and guidelines for an improved method of conducting police lineups and eye-witness testimony. Bruce holds a bachelor of science degree in criminology from the University of Saint Leo, Florida. He graduated number one from the Regional Police Academy and from the West Point Leadership & Management Training Course.

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