Local cops trained to 'enter the building immediately'

Cary Ashby • Updated Mar 3, 2018 at 8:00 AM

The first one there is the first one inside.

That’s the dominating approach for police in an active shooting situation inside a school or building. 

“Our policy here in New London is to enter the building immediately. There is always one officer on duty, including me. There is no waiting for back-up; you go in immediately and engage the threat,” New London Police Chief Mike Marko said.

Interim Norwalk Police Chief Mike Conney was trained in that approach starting in 2014. He was on the special response team (SRT) for 24 years and its leader for 10.

Conney said the first officer at a shooting inside a structure “doesn’t wait for permission” and doesn’t wait, but enters the building and confronts the suspect.

Erie County Sheriff Paul Sigsworth said the training philosophy and approaches to active shootings have changed over the years, but the expectation now is for the first officer to immediately enter the building, confront the shooter and “stop the killing.”

“I believe that our personnel would act appropriately when confronted with that type of situation. … Immediate and decisive actions must be taken,” he added. “If it was apparent the officer didn’t follow policy and procedures, the appropriate discipline action would be undertaken.”

In light of the Columbine school shooting massacre in April 1999, Conney said experts realized the previous approach of waiting for a SRT to respond didn’t address the problem and wasn’t practical since people inside would be killed while officers waited for a tactical squad.

“That puts the safety of the officer first; that doesn’t work,” he said.

After Columbine, police started using a response concept known was “quad.” That means police waited for four officers to be at the scene before handling the shooting situation.

“That’s the way we trained for a long time,” said Conney, who learned that approach in 2000.

But now, police are trained not to wait for any back-up. Conney said the “quad” approach also isn’t practical, so the first officer at the scene now has the sole purpose or objective of entering the building, locating the shooter and “taking care of it.”

“That means confronting the shooter and make him make a decision,” the interim chief added, referring to surrendering or “shooting it out with police.” 

“It’s all on them,” Conney said. “Our job is to get that shooter to stop hurting people. That’s not going to happen if we don’t get inside.”

Former school resource officer Scot Peterson, 54, resigned last week after experiencing backlash for remaining outside as shots rang out inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Some people have called Peterson a “coward.”

Seventeen people were killed and more than a dozen injured in the Feb. 14 shooting.

Peterson’s lawyer, Joseph DiRuzzo, said his client followed his training when he believed the gunshots were occurring outside the school. The deputy was armed at the time.

Milan Police Chief Bob Meister said the policy for an active shooting inside a building is to “go in and engage the threat immediately.”

“The faster we get in, the quicker we can engage the suspect and the quicker we can take care of the situation,” he added.

Marko was asked about what fears an officer might face during an active shooting.

“A lot of that comes with training,” he said, noting each New London cruiser is equipped with a high-powered weapon, which should be sufficient to handle such a situation.

“Even though we are a small town, we train constantly,” Marko added.

He and Conney were asked what would happen if an officer froze at the scene of an active shooting or didn’t go inside.

“It definitely would be a big problem. It would be a thorough investigation,” Conney said. “If the officer refused to go inside, it would be my recommendation to let him go.”

Local police chiefs said they don’t believe their officers would freeze or do nothing during a shooting.

“I don’t believe any officer here in New London would do that. I have 100-percent confidence in our officers,” Marko said.

Conney also expressed confidence in how the Norwalk officers would respond.

“The officers at Norwalk P.D. know what’s expected of them. I have faith in them. I think they would have a hard time living with themselves (if they did nothing),” he said.

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