Like it or not, regardless of your position on gun control issues, active shooter incidents are on the rise in this country. We’ve averaged roughly one a week over the past 18 months. If nothing else, we in law enforcement have access to an unfortunate, but educational base of information from these incidents should we choose to use it. Information that has continued to cause many departments to change and develop the ways we respond to these incidents — to be better, more affective in our actions — because no matter what state we’re in and regardless of the laws we burden under, we are more often than not “the good guy with the gun” that responds and ends these incidents.
We’ve had one incident here, with the odds increasing every day that we’ll have another one given the rising number of incidents around the country. Trends show that most incidents, for some reason, continue to occur east of the Mississippi, but they continue to increase here as well.
So, with the most recent incident where 2 officers were ambushed at the start of the latest active shooter incident, the thought of doing a little investigating into how the sheriff’s office handles Active Shooter training crossed my mind. Here’s what I found.
Active shooter training is taken seriously by everyone from your local police departments, to Homeland Security. Agencies across the country have active shooter policies, businesses and schools frequently have their own policies and informational process for students/employees. In other words, law enforcement and communities have worked together to bring about policies, practices and training opportunities in the hopes that it comes together in a response that saves lives.
Active Shooter training is considered a perishable skill by many in law enforcement. It’s considered such for two reasons — the ever changing technology, knowledge and tactics that are being used in response to these incidents based on what we learn with each one; and the usual “use it or lose it” issue that exists in many law enforcement skills.
Keep in mind for this discussion, the Sheriff’s office allows for only 2 “range days” a year where deputies qualify with their weapons — they’re each given fewer than 100 bullets a year, less than 50 for each of these days to qualify with their weapon. Hardly the level of practice one wants to ensure upkeep of a perishable skill to begin with.
There are new technologies — an increasing number of law enforcement across the nation is increasingly changing things like carrying “go bags” and being trained in tactical medicine — something else the sheriff’s office lags behind the rest on. Few if any deputies outside of SERT have any tactical medical training. Those that do would have gone to a class on their own time to get the training.
Other California agencies have incorporated Active Shooter training into their perishable skills programs to ensure that there is at least some level of update every couple of years that both supports responding to this disturbing trend and meets the current CA POST requirements for perishable skills.
So I checked to see when the last time an active shooter class was provided in this office. As far as I can tell every cadet at our academy gets this training. Great. That’s a solid beginning.
Over the past two years, in regards to the current deputies, the only training I could find was given only to deputies that were patrolling out of West Valley Division — the contract cities — twice over the past 1-2 years now, once, strangely enough, just this past week or so.
Unless deputies outside of the few that were at West Valley at that time went to classes on Active Shooter Response on their own time, there has been no training in this every changing, perishable training skill set in the Sheriff’s office.
Why are deputies who patrol the primary objective, the unincorporated county, not receiving this training as a perishable skill? Has it really come to the only areas the sheriff cares about is the contract cities because the unincorporated county is stuck with her, like it or not, but the contract cities can dump her at any moment should she not get a positive survey return? Is that how we do business in our office? It certainly begins to look that way between this information and how, during the election, our sheriff continually ignored statistics for the unincorporated area. Instead she continued to pound the point that she “ran two of the safest cities in the country” while ignoring the unincorporated area has seen a 20% increase in property crime and remains 3rd highest murder rate in the county.
It’s my understanding that there are a minimum of 4 people who are capable of teaching Active Shooter classes, perhaps as many as 6 people. With the academy available, the range, and instructors, there would be a minimum of excess resources needed to be spent to ensure this increasingly necessary skill is at peak performance with our deputies.
But nothing has been done.
It’s my understanding, to date, an after action review of the Lehigh cement plant incident has never been done. The sheriff, during the election repeatedly stated they did a “great job” on that incident. Arguing whether or not that is true is moot at this point — the question has become, if you never reviewed the incident for error, areas of improvement, training gaps, potentially better practices and procedures should a similar incident happen again how do you know you did a great job? How do you know that you couldn’t have done a better job?
To top that off, you have a real life incident that you can incorporate into your knowledge base. You can adjust to your training needs — what if? how could we? was there a different way? But none of that gathered intelligence was ever used to better the deputies or their potential response in the future or for any other purpose as far as I’ve been able to find out.
It’s been shown again and again and again — response to these high risk incidents is critical and sometimes very difficult with a shooter has prepared themselves. The days of waiting for a SWAT team are over, deputies must understand the decision process, have the skills to rely on and be enabled to act by their office in these incidents.
And this must apply to ALL deputies, not just the ones in contract “safest cities” that send out customer satisfaction surveys that force the sheriff to strive for a certain level of service.
As a region that has had an active shooter incident, that has some of the most high profile businesses in the nation you would hope that this would be a top issue for the sheriff to address, even that she would have addressed it in the weeks and months after the cement plant incident rather than later, but she didn’t.
But it’s hard to keep up. She’s just catching up to the rest of the Bay Area agencies, due to actions at the county Board of Supervisors level, on the very important issue of human trafficking. An issue that other agencies have been addressing on a regional level for years — with SFPD actually launching a SVU in 2011 even as our sheriff shut down Vice. Perhaps we’ll catch up on the Active Shooter training issue in about another 6 or so years, unless multi-tasking is going to be added to the administrative capability of our office at some point in the near future.