Active Shooters are Deadly Until Guaranteed Otherwise

We recently saw the active shooter incident of former L.A. Police officer Christopher Dorner play out in a very public manner. The one thing about the case I want you to note is that at no time were officers called off or told to stand down — that the shooter had left the area. The hunt continued and it traveled, but at all times, police were actively strategizing, moving and working to stop Dorner as a proven threat to the public.

Now I take you back to 2011, when Sheriff Laurie Smith — a leader with virtually zero experience in active shooter incidents over her career, no experience on a special operations SERT team, a complete lack of understanding of incident command — took full charge of all decisions in the incident where Shareef Allman killed co-workers and went on the run, heavily armed, in our community. Our elected sheriff decided that she would ignore the advise of those with more experience and training and understanding of these types of incidents in favor of one of her favorite election-time mantras — I’ve kept the budget low.

The deputies involved, as always, provided outstanding service to the best of their ability and to the best that was allowed by an administration again determined to hobble them, this time in a critical incident where lives were literally already lost and more at stake.

The part I want to focus on is Laurie’s decision making and lack of leadership during a time when it was most needed. There were ultimately two tactical teams deployed on the border of Sunnyvale and Cupertino. These two teams included SERT and Sunnyvale SWAT team. The tactics used were staggering simultaneously searches yard to yard in search of Shareef.

Shareef was last seen running northbound across Homestead Road and disappeared in the adjacent neighborhood to the north. An extensive perimeter was established and the area was locked down. US Marshall’s assisted in conducting surveillance on known family and friends in the area in case Shareef attempted to get picked up.

An important fact is the murders occurred during the early morning and the tactical teams were called out during the day. In the early evening the incumbent announced to her teams, all evidence shows he has left the area and she cleared all tactical teams and stripped the command post to one sgt and two non patrol trained courts deputies. She also had another non patrol trained deputy in his personal vehicle blocking the road up to the quarry so no one entered the crime scene. It was mind blowing she had three non patrol trained deputies running security for a critical, deadly event that was continuing into the night. But the worst part of it, there were no experienced or expert
personnel that agreed Allman had left the area — many were concerned they had an armed murderer hiding in the neighborhood and no one had any idea what he intended next.

Even as the Sheriff told the public the search was continuing through the night, a number of the members of the Santa Clara SERT team and members of Sunnyvale SWAT were very upset the search was actually being called off. Some of the members said they would sleep at the command post if needed and they were ordered home by the Sheriff. Members of the tactical teams not only felt they should not be sent home, but that there should be an active, continuing search going on at that time for Allman.

If all evidence shows he had left the area, as Sheriff Smith was trying to claim to her personnel, why would she keep regular deputies on roving patrols in the area and keep a command post present at all, even at bare minimum? The answer is the sheriff didn’t want to pay for overtime for two tactical teams to work into the night so she chose put everyone who lived in that neighborhood at risk of being murdered or being a potential hostage. She left a spree killer armed, in the neighborhood, over night with bare bones staffing to maintain a public appearance of continued activity and the only reason people didn’t die was because Shareef Allman decided he did not want to kill more people.

Allman was spotted by someone who’s dog started barking and drew attention to him. The citizen attracted the attention of patrol vehicle in the neighborhood and the incident ended shortly thereafter, with the only further fatality being Allman, himself.

Through sheer luck Shareef did not take hostages, nor did he kill anyone else before he was caught. The incumbent sheriff got lucky, one more time, that a few good people were there to deal with a violent threat to the community — not through her efforts, but by virtue of whatever power you believe in overcoming horrible incident command policies and leadership all around.

We need new leadership at the Sheriff’s office. Like Kevin Jensen, who understands that while budget is an important part of the sheriff’s job, it should not always be the first and/or only consideration in law enforcement. We need leadership that accepts and processes the experience and expertise of others when they do not themselves have that particular skill set. Law enforcement is a team effort, with a broad range of knowledge spread over many people. To push aside those whom you feel make you look bad because they are more knowledgable on a specific subject — to do so in a manner that endangers the public unnecessarily — is beyond bad leadership. Some of us wouldn’t even qualify such actions as falling under the term, leadership.

Vote for a Sheriff that will protect our communities, vote for Kevin Jensen on June 3rd for Santa Clara County Sheriff.

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4 thoughts on “Active Shooters are Deadly Until Guaranteed Otherwise

  1. My 2 cents. The incident was a cluster from the moment it was called in. Good, honest, hardworking Deputies were dispatched to a chaotic scene. People see things independently and as such, stories were different, active shooter?…, multiple shooters?…vehicle?….victims?…casualties?..on a scale this Department had never seen before. Had it been left to the Deputies and Sergeants to handle this situation, they would have SERT actively on scene and working neighborhoods, a clear a defined mission and cooperation with other agencies. The scene was in better hands with patrol deputies and sergeants than it turned into with the influx of bars and stars.

    ICS is a basic principle of multi agency support and cooperation. The deputies and sergeants know this, they are professionals. Sometimes things are better left to those who know and know how, than those who wish they did.

    As for support and appreciation, I don’t believe for a second that anyone of us cares what a bar or star may think of us, it’s those you work along side that matter. What happens in an office somewhere else is trivial compared to the things partners share . In the end it was Deputies and Sergeants who took care of business, kept the public safe and completed the mission. . Capable men and woman who without hesitation did their jobs, as the true professionals they are.

    Just imagine these talented professionals with a leader like Kevin Jensen. Food for thought.

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  2. Good job, CT!! This incident was a train wreck from the first unit being dispatched.

    The absolute worst part of the incident was the “Command Staff” showing absolutely zero support or appreciation for those involved. Not only has there been no form of de-brief, but anything [reports etc.] Having to do with the incident were admin pulled from the system.

    The DSA tried to put something together but wasn’t able to even put a list together of the staff involved. In talking with some of the Deputies/AMR staff, some closure would have been nice.

    With two different crime scenes, it’s nearly impossible to know what actually happened unless you made it to both.

    Having a Sheriff who cares enough about their “line level staff” to provide support and answers to those in need would definitely get my vote. Unfortunately that person is not our Sheriff… yet!

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  3. Not only did the Sheriff again fumble the ball at the end of the day, the beginning was not much better. I heard from friends in County Fire that when she was at the Command Post at the Monta Vista Fire Station, she was yelling at members of her Command Staff. She also asked the on-duty Battalion Chief to draw up the Incident Command Structure (ICS). Every sergeant and higher has been to ICS training and should be able to list the four branches and start filling in names. The structure is also available on the FEMA web site.

    I must take issue with you Casey. Are you sure that wearing tiger stripe BDUs to Best in the West doesn’t qualify you as an incident commander? The West Valley Division lieutenant should have assumed IC from the patrol sergeant and remained in charge. He does not need SERT training as that unit is but one resource among many available to the IC.

    Upon arrival, the Sheriff should be briefed on what has transpired and what is currently taking place. Her lack of training or experience notwithstanding, any Sheriff is far removed from actual law enforcement and should recognize that those are perishable skills. If she has promoted competent people and ensured they have been properly trained she can stand by and allow them to work. If you have all stopped laughing over that “promoted competent people” line, let me address another of her fumbles that day. At other major incidents I see chiefs and sheriffs, including women wearing their uniform. How unprofessional to be wearing a loose fitting windbreaker!

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    • You absolutely do not need SERT/SWAT training to be a Incident Commander, you are correct, Sempervirens. My point wasn’t that it was necessary to the effort, but that she had NONE of the experience that would qualify her to make some of the decisions she made autonomously — from Incident Command to the determination of whether or not the suspect had “left the area” or not she has no background to push others out of the process. It’s okay that she lacks experience in specific areas in law enforcement, it’s an expansive field and that’s why we work together on incidents like these. That’s not even the issue. The issue is more that she is unwilling to utilize the knowledge base available to her within her own office for fear some one might get credit, or look good, or be noted above her for their efforts. Perishable skills or otherwise, she and her command staff continue to interfere in investigations and incidents without concern to the damage they’re doing due to their lack of experience and unwillingness to work even with those inside their own office.

      I would have to go back and look, but someone commented at some point over the past months on my blog that a captain went to every major incident to make sure the deputies knew what they were doing. I’m paraphrasing a bit, but that is exactly the mentality — the deputies and sergeants are little more than children to be babysat by their superiors who know better than they.

      As for her in a uniform… I hear she had to buy a new one for the election season and she’s still only been seen in it once.

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