‘You walk into the danger zone, engage the suspect and eliminate the threat’


The FBI two weeks ago released a study that took a hard look at active shooters incidents in the U.S. from 2000 to 2013.

The Department of Homeland Security definition of an active shooter is “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area; in most cases, active shooters use firearm[s]and there is no pattern or method to their selection of victims.”

Joe Vargas

Joe Vargas

Click here to see FBI Study on Active Shooters

In what came as a surprise to nobody is that the number of incidents does appear to be increasing. For the first six years of the study there were an average of six shootings per year. That number has more than doubled to 16 incidents per year.

This is really scary because in most cases the victims are selected randomly and the crimes are occurring in otherwise safe places. Two of these safe places being the schools our children attend and businesses we patronize and work in.

You only have to imagine the horror of having someone go nuts with a firearm in a movie theater such as in Aurora, Colorado or a disturbed individual targeting a school full of children such as Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.

These are places where we have a high expectation of safety and security. It should make us all reflect on what has become of our society. Even as a retired police officer I feel compelled to carry a firearm, just in case.

Police agencies have responded by adapting training to respond better to such incidents. In the old days you would form a perimeter, lock the location down and wait for the SWAT team to respond. Now you gather up a squad of brave individuals and you race to the scene as quickly as possible knowing that lives depend on it.

Yes, I spoke correctly. You walk into the danger zone, engage the suspect and eliminate the threat. Over and over again in response to such incidents, police officers are immediately taking action.

If you’re lucky you get behind the biggest guy holding a bulletproof shield and you charge in. Officers practice formations and movements to reduce the risk, but there is no guaranteed safe way to approach someone intent on mass killings.

There are detractors out there who claim police officers are mindless drones, racist thugs and all sorts of profane things. But you have to hand it to those men and women who will without question run into a situation where bullets are flying just to make sure others are safe.

It goes against every normal instinct to run towards people shooting at you. Some would call it courage others a sense of duty. I think it really speaks to character and quality of the men and women wearing a police uniform.

Officers are selected because they are wired to protect and serve others.
That’s part of what makes it so difficult to find and select people to fill the positions. It’s not easy to find people willing to put themselves in harms way to the point of risking their lives for complete strangers.

The other significant issue with active shooters is what can be done to prevent these acts of spontaneous violence from occurring.

I’ll discuss that in my next column.

Joe is a retired Anaheim Police Department captain and its first public-information officer. He can be reached at jvargas@behindthebadgeoc.com