On April 20, 1999, two teenagers from Columbine high school shot dead 12 of their schoolmates and a teacher, also wounding dozens of other before committing suicide. The Columbine massacre was at that particular time the worst crime ever witnessed at a high school shooting in the United States of America history (Cullen, 2009).The tragic event took breath away from the public prompting national debate and criticism on the vulnerability of the police response and preparedness to tackle such incidence of terrorism acts. The Columbine tragedy left many important questions to be investigated. Though the lesson learned from Columbine cannot bring back to life any of the victims of two disgruntled students at the school Klebold and Harris, the experience can be used in future to save more life by developing a protocol of an active police rescue responses to such an emergency situation.
What the public witnessed on the tragic day of the Columbine high school shooting scene and through the news media, were merely police agencies and their officers dragging to respond to the main school compound and securing the parameter. According to MacKay (2010), it is estimated that more than 100 police officers responded to the scene. Despite the fact that there were more than enough armed police officers, none of them immediately made entry to the campus to confront the killers and stop the killing. The question that arose from the police handling of the event was whether it was indeed expected of the police agencies to observe and wait for the right moment to enter. The special weapons and tactics (S.W.A.T) era seemed to have developed a new protocol for police response. The regular police officers were no longer receiving training to respond and take charge of every situation as they had previously. Before the approval of the S.W.A.T. concept, the ordinary police officers would respond to every emergency incident to collect intelligence on the ground, frame an action plan and execute it. The S.W.A.T. required that the patrol officers be less aggressive while encountering the high risk of armed assailants. It was at the time necessary for the policing officer to respond and wait for professionally trained S.W.A.T. Police officers to handle such situation (Fisher, 2010).
Incident management system was used in Columbine though it was not effective because of various challenges such as difficulties in verbal communication due to the noise of activated fire alarms and the fact that almost all radios operated on different bandwidth. Police officers from several agencies responded to the incident having heard of the shooting spree from various sources. The S.W.A.T. commander, Sergeant Bill Black upon arrival at the incident, contained the exceedingly chaotic situation by working together with Walcher, who was commanding the officers in the event. According to Dino and Ed (2009), together they directed and organized the tactical units through the ranking officers from various police agencies and Littleton Fire Department. Though it took long to create order and manage the incident, eventually the system worked in assigning different agencies various tasks such as S.W.A.T deployment and medical evacuation.
One of the biggest failures of the police officer who responded to the event is that they did not immediately seek the intelligence of the School Resource Officer (SRO) stationed at the school. SRO is tasked to handle security problem that may ascend on the campus and normally is very conversant with the school structure and how to move around it. The intelligence of the officer would have been used by the responding officer to access the campus and secure some buildings. However, SRO was kept under cover rather than using his intelligence to enter and confront the two assailants who continued to kill the student in the building (Dino & Ed, 2009). The old-fashioned practice of containment of a risky situation and waiting for the arrival of S.W.A.T. was in use since the 1970s. Crime suspects were delicately and tolerably handled by securing the parameters and trying to negotiate with them to resolve the matter. Other events could be controlled by buying more time to encourage mutual reasoning with the attackers to take place. The S.W.A.T. strategies were typically slow and cautious movements intended to ensure the safety of the team members. The team had to follow a protocol that provided clearance of every space they were planning to occupy or passing on before moving on to the next target on threat (Stair & American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 2012). A single S.W.A.T team required hours to make clearance in Columbine school methodically. The team arrived and started its assessment and finally entry into the building. This systematical entry was widely criticized as being extremely slow that resulted into loss of more lives especially the wounded victims.
It could be fair to observe that neither the various police agencies nor the Columbine school administrators were effectively prepared to tackle the tragic violence that occurred at the school. Consequently in spite of the courage demonstrated by many staff and students at Columbine, various glitches erupted during the crisis including the problem of the protocol used to coordinate the school administration and law enforcement agencies that could not be easily resolved in the midst of crisis.
To suggest a protocol to guide a similar situation in the future the law enforcement agencies should strive to ensure that they observe the following recommendation relating to the response action as learned from the Columbine tragic event.
Law enforcement policy should emphasize that the top priority of police officers, upon arrival at a violent and emergency scene, is to bring to an end any ongoing assault. All police officers from various agencies who may be first responders at a crisis should work in hand with the SROs. They should respond to the emergency whether or not dispersed as member standing or reserve for S.W.A.T. team. They should also have readily available all necessary weapons and safety equipment that might be essential in the pursuit of active armed criminals.
Law enforcement agencies should also allow intercommunication between various agencies. Proper communication system protocol must be observed to facilitate crisis communication with other agencies with whom they might sensibly be more probable to interface in the event of such emergency like Columbine.
Cullen, D. (2009). Columbine.
Dino, J. T., Jr, D. S., & Ed, D. (2009). a Study in Police Preparedness To Respond To Active Shooter Situations To Provide a Safer Learning Environment in the Schools of Bergen County, New Jersey.
Fisher, J. (2010). SWAT madness and the militarization of the American police: A national dilemma. Santa Barbara, Calif: Praeger.
MacKay, J. (2010). The Columbine School shooting. Detroit, MI: Lucent Books.
Stair, R., & American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. (2012). Law enforcement responder: Principles of emergency medicine, rescue, and force protection. Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.
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