University Police on How to Respond to an Active Shooter Event

Monica Sager, Scarlet Staff

On Dec. 2, eleven church members walked into the police station. They themselves were not in trouble, but were there to learn about wrongdoings in the news recently. The classroom was full of badges and graduating class plaques—probably the most relevant to the issue was the banner with “Army’s National Guard Worcester Police Academy,” two guns, and “The Nation’s First” written on it.

The class learned through “Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events” that an active shooting, according to the presentation, is any attempt at mass murder — it doesn’t have to be someone with a gun, as seen in recent news with the use of cars.

“You forget half of these that you see on the news,” said Officer Brian Halloran, the president of the police patrolmen’s union. “It becomes so prevalent that you become numb to it.”

It was reported by the United States Attorney General that active shooter incidents have increased three-fold in 2013. There is an 82 percent survival rate during a handgun-related active shooting, and only 27 percent when a longarm is used.

The officers spoke of the difference between the common “human brain,” in which logical thinking occurs, and the “lizard brain,” which slows down people’s response times to stressful situations like an active shooting. People go through denial, deliberation, and decisive movement during these trying times. The quicker the process, the higher the likelihood of survival. Methods such as simply breathing can decrease the time one is in “lizard brain” mode.

“If you can get away, get away. That’s your best defense,” Halloran said.

Worcester officers present active shooter information to public schools through the Alert Lockdown Inform Counter Evacuate (ALICE) program, which includes information on what the police would do in such an event.

Active shooting is a university concern as well.

“You can never be completely safe,” Clark University’s President David Angel said. “Nothing is more important in any community than the safety of its members.”

A suspect with a gun ran into the Sackler Science Center at Clark a few years ago, according to Clark’s Chief Officer Stephen Goulet.

“We have a profound responsibility to be prepared for that,” Angel said.

Nobody was there, as it was a holiday. But two officers still cleared the building.

“They felt perfectly comfortable,” said University Officer Efrain Diaz, who has extensive training in active shooter response. “Everything we learned at the range…came into play.”

University Police are trained for an active shooter situation. Officers receive training with situations involving rifles, pistols, active shooters, and rescue medicine, which includes bandages and tourniquets.

The training also includes live fire. Simunitions, which Goulet called “law enforcement’s version of paint ball,” are used.

“You should see the scenarios [Diaz] comes up with,” Goulet said. “I feel he’s way ahead of the curve.”

But the campus police’s methods for such a condition haven’t always been that way. In the past, officers did not have medical equipment.

“There was a huge percentage of people that could’ve been saved the first four minutes after the police responded,” Diaz said.

According to Diaz, after fire fighters in Nebraska thought of a better way to “work as a team,” Clark police adopted the system.

“We don’t wait anymore,” Goulet said. “To me that equips to saving people.”

The same method is now used by the Worcester police as well. Officers’ priorities are still to first stop the killing, but then they now move on to aid the wounded. Lastly, they evacuate the area.

In today’s world, this is a necessity. The United States “has more mass shootings—and more people cumulatively killed or injured—than the other ten nations combined,” researchers Jaclyn Schildkraut and H. Jaymi Elass found, according to Politifact. The other countries surveyed were Australia, Canada, China, England, Finland, France, Germany, Mexico, Norway, and Switzerland.

“When adjusted for population, the United States ranks in the upper half of their list of 11 countries,” according to the Politifact article “The Facts on Mass Shootings in the United States.”

While, according to the National Safety Council (NSC), a car crash death is seven hundred times more likely than being killed by an active shooter, it is important for students and community members to receive warnings. With Clark ALERTS, students will receive emergency notification on any situation. Currently 40 percent of students use the system, which gives alerts through email, text, or voice mail.

“I want one hundred percent,” Goulet said.

According to Diaz, an active shooter situation typically lasts eight minutes from start to end.
“Active shooter incidents are often unpredictable and evolve quickly,” which is why, according to Homeland Security, any witness to the event can play an impactful role.

The Worcester police presentation noted that it takes three to five minutes nationally for police to respond. In Worcester, there are up to 20 police cars out on the road at all times, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they can get to a situation faster. Those three to five minutes could be critical.

“That’s your domain,” Halloran said. “You have to come up with a plan before we get there.”

But it must be acknowledged that colleges are not active shooters’ number one target.

“Most people think of an active shooter being at a college, where, in reality, it’s going to be at a place of commerce more often,” Halloran said.

Halloran spoke of sitting against the wall while out so that he can observe the whole space. He has a “weird ability,” as he called it, to hold a conversation and know the three around him at the same time. He’s diligent, and keeps watch at all times.

“You can’t go anywhere that a real, bad critical situation can’t happen,” Halloran said.