A way forward after the Parkland massacre

by SHERIFF LEON LOTT February 28, 2018

sheriff Lott _ full by tc 600 px

The world has changed. Nowhere is this more evident than in this modern culture which has given rise to mass-shootings like the recent horrific attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

As is always predictable, everyone wants to blame everyone else for what most Americans would not have known would erupt on that terrible day as most Parkland-area children and their parents were instead going about their school and workaday lives and enjoying the fun of Valentine's Day: As in a perfect world they should be.

But the world is not perfect. Far from it.

That deadly shooting-attack, which claimed the lives of 17 victims (most of them teenagers) and wounded another 14, took place exactly two weeks ago to the day as I write this. And the questions continue to lead the news cycles, front-pages and newsfeeds.

Did local and federal authorities know of the imminent danger posed by the killer, and fail to remove him as a threat to others?

Was the school not properly secured and thus liable?

Have we created a culture of violence - TV, movies, video games, live streaming of war and video clips of terrorist atrocities - within the broader society?

Are guns to blame?

Do we have too many guns?

Should we arm more people, including teachers?

Did police fail to respond in time or refuse to respond at all?

Always the questions are laced with condemnation and blame, painfully thin information or outright misinformation, and politicians jockeying for greater party leverage within the framework of their pet agendas.  

Truth be known, there is much that could have been done and that can be done to mitigate such threats going forward. And there is much that needs to be considered, reconsidered, and evaluated by the experts in law enforcement, and incorporated into our response training, as we press forward in this unusual era in the history of our nation.

My Richland County Sheriff's Dept. (RCSD) - and all of the elements within the RCSD from patrol deputies to special response (SWAT) team operators to hostage negotiators to the men and women on the technology side - will thoroughly evaluate what happened in Florida as we do all such incidents and attacks, worldwide, and we will better prepare ourselves for any similar scenario here. We've already begun.

What I won't do in the wake of this tragedy is second-guess who should have done what and why; and what, if any, are the political solutions to this problem. Far too many people are already weighing in; most with little-to-no police experience. It's very easy to sit back and Monday-morning quarterback something like this. But it's rarely helpful.

What I will do is explain a bit as to how the RCSD operates.

After the Columbine massacre in 1999, law-enforcement officers, nationwide, began to develop training wherein the officer or officers present (or the first-to-arrive) would "go in" and stop the attacker(s) without waiting for reinforcements. This universal law-enforcement training exists today across the U.S. and frankly the world.

Here at the RCSD, we train our deputies not to wait for back-up in like-situations, because victims inside can die in those minutes or seconds of waiting.

The attacker(s) must be confronted immediately. Period. This means the officer may have to enter the building, room, or rooms alone, or - if there are two or more officers present - they may be able to quickly form-up a limited team and go in. What we simply cannot do - and we will not do - is wait on the arrival of an organized SWAT team like our special response team.

There are two primary reasons why we teach our deputies to enter immediately. First is to stop the attacker and put an end to the threat as soon as possible. Second is that upon entering the danger zone, the responding officer may not encounter the attacker at all. But he or she may encounter wounded victims for whom vital first-aid may be immediately provided.

Tactics, techniques, and procedures in the aggregate are but one of our considerations. There are many others, and the public needs to have a greater understanding and appreciation for a few of them.

Many schools today are mega-campuses with literally thousands of students.

Prior to Columbine, many of these mega-campus schools were built as open campuses. Many of these open-campus schools are still operating, which - in an attack situation - would create numerous tactical difficulties for law enforcement. Moreover, open campuses are not as easy to secure on the front-end as are closed campus schools.

New schools built today are closed campus schools for obvious safety reasons.

What about arming teachers? This is a wrongheaded approach in my opinion. Arming teachers or school administrators would open-up and expose us to an entirely new and unknown, unexperienced realm of liability problems and safety pitfalls with no reasonably sound end as I see it.

Training someone to respond to an armed threat is lot more than simply a few hours of static range-time and a little classroom instruction. Also, we must consider the danger of a teacher being overpowered and having his or her weapon taken from them. There is simply so much to think about here, which is why I personally believe arming teachers is not only wrong; but would be an irresponsible, potentially dangerous approach to the problem.

Teachers are trained to teach. Law enforcement officers are trained to confront dangerous attackers and protect the lives of others.

What is the answer to any of this? We live in a violent age. That particular cultural genie has been let out of the bottle; and until selflessness, kindness, solid values and good morals are reinstituted back into our society, I don't know that we can get that genie back in the bottle.

So what can we do? Better training, always, and better security technologies going forward. Trusting and supporting your law-enforcement officers. And, above all, reason, not emotion. Sound solutions; not kneejerk reactions.

Leon Lott _ thumb 2016Sheriff Leon Lott leads the Richland County Sheriff's Dept., one of the largest law enforcement agencies in South Carolina, and one of six regularly featured LE agencies on A&E's hit TV series, LIVE PD. In 2010, Lott traveled to Erbil, Iraq - at the invitation of the Iraqi government - to assist in the establishment of, planning for, and training at the first-ever Iraqi female police academy.    


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