BULLSEYE: Active Shooter Response

By Chief Mike Burg, Rittman, Ohio Police Department

A Return to the Basics


In light of all of the attention being brought up about armed police officers in schools (and just about every place else), we need to look closely at our firearms training. Perhaps we need to revisit some basics and a few moderately advanced tactics and techniques for the patrol officer. I refer to the patrol officer because let’s not forget that the active shooter is a patrol problem, not a SWAT problem.

Let me preface the remainder of this article by stating up front that I am a proponent of patrol officers responding to active shooters and going directly to the threat. Unfortunately, we do not have the luxury of time when responding to these calls. Wasted time means a higher body count. We know that backup is on the way, but it may be a few minutes away and that’s too long. In many American cities, there are only one or two officers on duty at a time.

How Prepared Are You?

Let’s first look at the long gun you have available to you on patrol (and you should have at least one). Shotgun or patrol rifle, both are well suited for their respective roles. Some of you may have a shotgun, some a rifle, and ideally a lot of you will have both.
Which will you take with you to an active shooter call? Why? Prior to answering that question, you need to ask yourself:

  • How familiar am I with this weapon?
  • How proficient am I with this weapon?
  • Do I know the capabilities and limitations of this weapon?

Obviously, if you only have one long gun in the patrol unit, then your options are limited and you’ll have to take what is available. That being the case, it’s up to you to be familiar with the weapon, be proficient with the weapon, and know its capabilities.

Use a Long Gun for an Active Shooter

We take a long gun with us to an active shooter call first and foremost for its additional and (hopefully) overwhelming firepower to stop the incident from progressing further. Second, for officer safety, confronting a person with a long gun when you only have a handgun means that you have to be well within range of his long gun. This puts you more on the defensive than the offensive. I am a big fan of my pistol, yet all of our patrol cars are equipped with both a shotgun and a patrol rifle. I am capable with both long guns, but admittedly, I prefer my pistol. Would I go into an active shooter incident with my pistol only? Absolutely not!

Target Identification

Once inside the area the active shooter controls, how well honed are your target identification and target acquisition skills? How about multiple targets? Don’t become fixated on just one target, remember to keep your eyes moving.
Target identification may be especially difficult if you’re in a place such as a mall where attempting to get to the threat is similar to a salmon swimming upstream. You’re trying to get in while hordes of people are trying to get out. Are you going to take the time and attempt to get a description of the shooter from the wave of humanity that you’re facing or are you just going to try to move directly to the threat? How good is the description you are likely to receive from a hysterical person who wants nothing more than to get to safety?

Engaging the Threat

You reach what you perceive to be the threat, but could he/she be an off-duty officer from another jurisdiction taking action, or perhaps a citizen with a CCW permit? This is where verbal commands come in; they must be issued rapidly to determine the status of what you see before you. Obviously, there may be factors that indicate to you that this is the threat–things like the use of a long gun. Most off-duty officers and CCW permit holders don’t go to the mall with a shotgun or rifle! Speed is of the upmost urgency to prevent further casualties. Don’t forget the possibility of multiple threats. It’s not always the “lone gunman” or “lone wolf” acting alone; sometimes there are others working together. Don’t become so fixated on a single threat that you stopped that you fail to scan the area for additional threats. That being said, conversely, don’t become so preoccupied with scanning for additional threats that you fail to recognize that the person you just stopped is down, but not out, and is still a potential threat.

When responding to an active shooter in a building, such as a school, how are your hallway tactics? Don’t let your long gun’s muzzle “flag” your presence by announcing your arrival too early. This is where you must combine both speed and stealth. Get to the threat as quickly as possible, but do it in such a manner that you don’t telegraph your approach. Keep in mind the basics of building searches and cover versus concealment.
Don’t forget or neglect your duty pistol. Remember that your long gun is a machine, and machines can break when we need them the most. Therefore, you also need to practice transition drills, switching from your long gun to your pistol in a rapid manner.

Give some thought to self-rescue. Officers have gone down in an area active shooters control and have been forced to secure themselves in place. If you’ve been wounded and help can’t get to you, you need to be able to help yourself. You can render aid to yourself as long as you have the tools on your person. A very small “go bag” clipped to the sling of your patrol rifle can contain two spare rifle magazines and self-rescue items. A C.A.T.® tourniquet, several large gauze pads, some Kling® to hold them in place, a packet of Quick-Clot®, and a Bloodstopper® bandage are excellent items to have with you, for your own use or for others. Don’t make your active shooter response bag too big or you may decide not to take it when you may need it the most. If the bag is too big, it may limit your movement and mobility as well.

Lastly, give some thought to preplanning. Think like an active shooter would. Walk through your schools, houses of worship, businesses and large factories—any targets you can think of. Get to know the interiors and look for places of cover and concealment. This kind of preparation can provide you with an advantage in the event you need to respond there.
We have to change to meet the threats of the times and go home safely at the end of the day. This return to the basics of active shooter response is a lot to think about and train on, but it will help to keep us and those we serve alive.PM

Mike Burg is a 37-year veteran of the Rittman, Ohio Police Department; a graduate of the FBI National Academy; former SWAT team leader; and an author.

No caption needed.

Back to Top