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Posted on Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 5:58 a.m.

Lessons from Colorado: How mass shootings have changed police response and what citizens can learn

By Rich Kinsey

Colorado has certainly had its share of tragedy when it comes to “active shooter” incidents. It has also been the epicenter of a paradigm shift in law enforcement response to such incidents.

In the 1980s and 1990s the response by police to active shooting incidents was to set up a perimeter around the building and wait for the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team to show up and make entry into the building.


A police officer looks at a makeshift memorial across the street from a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., where 12 people were killed and dozens more injured last month.

AP photo

That changed on April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School when two heavily armed trench-coat clad suicidal teens entered their school and killed 12 students and a teacher and wounded 21 others. The officers who responded to the scene, acting under policies, guidelines and training of the day, dutifully set up a perimeter while the shooters inside continued their rampage. From a police officer's standpoint I can think of no greater frustration than to hear people in peril and not being able to do a thing about it.

That incident changed the way law enforcement trains and responds to active shooting incidents. The training is tougher as is the response, but at least officers can “go tactical” much more quickly and hopefully save more lives.

Each department’s policy and training will vary dealing with active shooters, but all share the same goal of containing and neutralizing the threat. Put very simply the first responding officers will quickly assemble, grab the biggest guns, most ammunition and best body armor they can muster from their patrol cars and double-time toward the loudest noises — like bangs, booms or screams.

From a law enforcement standpoint no matter what happens, this is going to be a bad day, but we are going to try to minimize the loss of life and damage to citizens' lives. The good news for my brothers and sisters wearing badges is that most active shooters are cowards, that when faced with someone who poses a threat, they usually either surrender or kill themelves.

In Aurora, Colo., where a gunman opened fire at a movie theater last month, killing 12 people and wounding dozens more, the shooter was nearly completely covered in ballistic body armor, but when faced by determined police officers, gave up. Clearly he loved himself enough that he did not want to die or get hurt. (Former Ann Arbor Police Chief Dan Oates, now the police chief in Aurora, is leading the investigation there.

More common than the random violence perpetrated by the Aurora shooter are workplace violence incidents. One should never take “casual” conversation about physically harming another co-worker lightly — they do not belong in the workplace and should be reported to a supervisor and acted upon. Violent workers can become active shooters when they feel their circumstances are “hopeless.”

The active shooters who would be most difficult to handle would be terrorists like those encountered in 2004 in the Beslan, Russia, school siege. In that case heavily armed and trained terrorists held 1,100 innocent people hostage for three days and caused the death of 380.

That kind of incident would necessitate many law enforcement SWAT teams and perhaps military intervention. In studying that case; however, it was found that if anyone armed might have been able to engage the terrorists early, many victims could have gotten out of the gym that became the holding area.

The fact of the matter is that when these tragic incidents happen they are studied by law enforcement and tactics evolve to combat new threats. Cops are then communicating these tactical suggestions to each other, better than they ever have, using the Internet and law enforcement websites.

More importantly, law enforcement agencies are communicating with schools and businesses to develop plans should these incidents or other emergencies occur. The key to handling these incidents and for that matter any disaster, is prior planning, training and setting up lines of communication before an incident unfolds.

So the cops are learning. What about citizens? What should citizens do if confronted by an active shooter?

The United States Department of Homeland Security offers an online pamphlet of suggestions for citizens: .

In that pamphlet the Department of Homeland Security offers the following tips: “Good practices for coping with an active shooter situation

  • Be aware of your environment and any possible dangers
  • Take note of the two nearest exits in any facility you visit
  • If you are in an office, stay there and secure the door
  • If you are in a hallway, get into a room and secure the door
  • As a last resort, attempt to take the active shooter down. When the shooter is at close range and you cannot flee, your chance of survival is much greater if you try to incapacitate him/her.
  • Most important: Call 911 when it is safe to do so

The key to active shooter incidents is being alert and aware and getting the police responding as soon as possible, because most of these incidents are over in 10-15 minutes.

Finally, you may have noticed that I have not mentioned any murderer by name. This was done on purpose because as I have stated in the past, I do not believe these vile wretches deserve any recognition or media attention which might encourage the next antisocial misfit to take up arms and kill innocent people for no reason.

I applaud the governor and people of Colorado who name, mourn and personalize the victims, praise the heroes and refuse to utter the name of any clown-haired coward who caused this tragedy. This trend is gaining some initial footings in the media and hopefully that will continue.

Lock it up, don’t leave it unattended, be aware and watch out for your neighbors.

Rich Kinsey is a retired Ann Arbor police detective sergeant who now blogs about crime and safety for


Rudra N Rebbapragada

Fri, Aug 3, 2012 : 9:56 p.m.

There is no need to approach this problem with a sense of fear and prepare for a risk that is not common. The funding to increase police preparedness is not justified and there is no fun in going to a movie while expecting to come under an attack.

John Hritz

Fri, Aug 3, 2012 : 8:11 p.m.

Another lesson learned by law enforcement is the use of compact trauma kits like those used by the military in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Pima County Sheriffs use of these is widely credited with the number of survivors at the Arizona shooting. I don't know whether these were used by officers at the scene of the Aurora shooting.


Fri, Aug 3, 2012 : 5:55 p.m.

Many like to indulge themselves in an illusion that does not exist in the real world. From coffee shops to anti gun nuts to Congress, so many people tacitly believe that with the "right combination" laws and restrictions on law abiding citizens (if we forfeit enough of our freedom), then nothing bad will happen anywhere in a nation of 300,000,000 individuals. This is not the case and never will be and the evidence is readily available and clear, but like so much in this nation of democrat socialist reporters, is subject to spin or omitted as "outside our corrupt socialist liberal democrat narrative".


Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 6:42 p.m.

This is good advice. However, we still need to move forward with more stringent background checks on gun purchasers. Ammunition or guns should not be available for purchase online. Ordinary people have NO business owning rapid fire assault weapons. Armor-piercing bullets should not be available to anyone. Period.


Fri, Aug 3, 2012 : 2:29 a.m.

With all due respect your post illustrates knowledge gained through sound bites. No background check will work if a person hasn't broken any laws or as in Aurora or Va Tech crazy people aren't reported in the first place. Guns may be purchased online BUT still require a transfer through an FFL and a run through NICS. Define "rapid fire" and what rate would be acceptable for "ordinary" people. Maybe you ought to define ordinary people while you are at it. You do realize that the weapons were all standard semi automatic firearms correct? And that those weapons are used in a minuscule percent of crimes? Armor piercing pistol rounds are already regulated and not available to ordinary people. As for rifle rounds, standard bullet resistant vests such as most police wear are only bullet resistant for handgun rounds. just about any standard hunting round will easily penetrate those. Should we ban all of those as well? How about we regulate the crazy people and leave the rest of us law abiding citizens and the firearms they've never misused alone? Bet you'd chafe at being restricted to only driving Yugos because you don't "need" a more powerful, bigger, faster etc car.

G. Orwell

Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 4:04 p.m.

A perfect example of why armed law abiding citizens reduce crimes and prevents massacres. As someone said, police, nearly always, arrive after the crime has been committed. 71 year old armed grandfather prevents a massacre


Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 3:47 p.m.

Guns Rule!!!!


Fri, Aug 3, 2012 : 12:49 p.m.

In this universe, those that have them do indeed rule over those that don't. For all the pie in the sky Camelot / Bushido fantasies equality is not gained by denying power to those that don't have it.


Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 3:12 p.m.

If I were a theater owner, I would consider posting a sign that says licensed concealed weapons are welcome, just like is posted in the Texas Capitol.


Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 3:56 p.m.

It's likely not an individual who owns the theater. It's more likely someone like MJR who owns many theaters across the country.


Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 2:49 p.m.

All I know is that there's a story in the Detroit News today saying that a University Colorado psychiatrist notified the designated authorities of James Holmes' erratic mental state and NOTHING WAS DONE. Once again: people were killed, injured or endangered and university officials can only make excuses (Virginia Tech, Penn State, University of Michigan - on and on). It's great that we have police ready to respond -after the damage is done, but what about the SUCCESS in identifying potential threats, what about follow through on those potential threats? What about BETTER SECURITY for buildings? Google "Ignatius Piazza" and you'll see a California millionaire is so incensed that he's offering to pay legal fees for those suing the Aurora Colorado theater owners. He says that (1) theater owners forced patrons to attend the movie unarmed and (2) that in such cases they are legally required to provide equal personal security. Rich: you did a great job outlining the procedures for handling active shooters - thank you. But more can and should be done, starting with better physical security for public buildings and prosecuting excuse-making university officials. I will add: "taking down the active shooter" involves having a license to carry your self defense pistol AND having employers and university officials and retail establishment management RECOGNIZE your rights under the law. If they won't do that: MAKE THEM PAY.


Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 4:27 p.m.

I may be mistake about this, but from what I understand, Colorado law requires that if a local government bans legally carried firearms in their buildings, they are required to provide security at all entrances. Essentially it is what you are saying put into practice. If an establishment wants to make the choice of denying you of your right to self defense, the legal liability of protecting you should fall on them.

martini man

Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 2:46 p.m.

No matter how sophisticated and professional the police response is , it's still a response, which means the crime has been, or IS being committed. The police cannot protect anyone from an armed killer.Law enforcement arrives AFTER the killing or massacre has started. ... Only the potential victims have the power to protect themselves...well actually they don't, since law abiding citizens can't be armed in places where most psychos do their filthy deeds. So it seems the gist of this article is that ...although we can't stop the slaughter, we may be able to respond in a manner that will help keep the death toll lower. I feel so safe now.


Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 2:10 p.m.

Liberals are hilarous - like talking to a rock. Like most mass murderers, this guy broke a whole bunch of laws and seemed a bit unconcerned about what Congress had to say about his plan, let alone state law makers. The only people who could ever make an impact an attack like that would be private, law abiding citizens in the audiance who happened to be armed and ready to return fire. If anything would make a coward like this guy re-think his plan on day one, RETURN FIRE would be it. Any claims that this can be solved by dis-arming Amerincans is bs.


Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 11:33 p.m.

Force always works - you just have to use enough if it.


Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 5:57 p.m.

I like it! Incoming rounds always have the right of way!

Jonathan Blutarsky

Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 1:47 p.m.

Yes! What we need is more guns - that will solve everything!


Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 4:23 p.m.

In the scenario that is being discussed here, yes, fundamentally, more guns are the solution to deter and possibly stop a mass shooter. Mr. Kinsey even writes, "...officers...grab the biggest guns, most ammunition and best body armor they can muster..." There is a reason why the cops bring lots of guns to an active shooting scene. Unfortunately that is the only guaranteed way to stop an active shooter. The only problem is, the police are usually NOT nearby when the shooting starts. Even in Aurora, where the police were already on scene to help with opening night crowds at the theater, it still took them time to respond. In the meantime, people were being killed. Furthermore, the police did not stop the shooter in this case, as he had already ceased firing on his own accord and was attempting to escape when he was caught. The media and liberals always harp on and on about "Oh, an armed citizen would just make the situation worse." or "The shooter was wearing body armor, so an armed citizen would've been helpless anyway." to rationalize their preferred response of curling up in a ball and waiting for the authorities to show up, and hoping for the best while being unprepared for the worst. It's getting old and tiresome. What could be WORSE than allowing a mass shooter to continue shooting people unchallenged? So what if he was wearing body armor? Had someone engaged Holmes, either physically or with a firearm, at the very least it would have diverted his attention away from shooting innocent people to the person(s) immediately engaging him.


Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 2:31 p.m.

It will solve the disparity of force victims already encounter...

G. Orwell

Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 1:47 p.m.

Did the shooting in Aurora happen the way the media and law enforcement are portraying? Was there, again, only a loan gunman? Or, did he have help. Several witnesses report that the gunman had help. That would explain how he gained entry into the theater through the exit doors that are locked and swing outward. Also, why would Holmes sit in his car waiting to be arrested after shooting over 70 people? He went through elaborate planning not to be captured and hide his identity. Who dropped the gas mask at the other end of the theater about 100 yards from Holmes' car. How did a graduate student on welfare purchase $20,000 worth of equipment? Whose large blood trail is in the back of the theater? Why is Dan Oates lying about no other accomplices when several witnesses clearly describe people that helped the shooter? Why would Holmes boobytrap his apartment so intricately that an army bomb expert had to be called in and then Holmes warns the police? Where did he get the expertise to rig such a complicated bomb? Why are there two different people portrayed as Holmes (pictures of Holmes before the shooting and after are clearly different people). Why did the media lie about Holmes' mother claiming her son was the shooter? Does this have anything to do with the UN Small Arms Treaty or gun ban Obama supports? There is far more to this than we are being told. Something really stinks. If anyone doubts what I claimed above, do your own research. It is not difficult. Don't blindly believe the controlled media.

G. Orwell

Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 6:51 p.m.

You guys keep drinking The gov. and corporate media kool aid. Did we find any WMDs in Iraq yet. So naive.


Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 4:53 p.m.

i'd think a "loan ( sic) gunman" would be welcome, if his rates were low... otherwise the usual conspiracy claptrap of someone who trusts the loony, unvetted web over proper usual


Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 4:41 p.m.

Also there are chem-trails in our sky and the moon landing was faked...right...


Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 1:19 p.m.

" most active shooters are cowards, that when faced with someone who poses a threat, they usually either surrender or kill themelves. " "it was found that if anyone armed might have been able to engage the terrorists early, many victims could have gotten out of the gym that became the holding area" "As a last resort, attempt to take the active shooter down. When the shooter is at close range and you cannot flee, your chance of survival is much greater if you try to incapacitate him/her." The first responders are ALWAYS going to be the victims NOT the rescuers. Every precedent, study and review of statistics shows ARMED "victims" have a greater chance of survival AND reducing numbers of other victims. Those that do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.


Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 11:52 a.m.

Nice article Mr. Kinsey, As 'Patroit' eluded to, with a single exception (Tucson, AZ last year) since 1950 EVERY public shooting in the US where more than three people were killed has occurred in a place where firearms were prohibited... i.e. citizens were denied the right to defend themselves. You are correct Mr. Kinsey, these people are COWARDS, that is why they do these horrific things in places where their chance of meeting resistance is low. The bad guys are going to have and keep their guns no matter what, or they're going to use other weapons (car, knife, bat, propane, etc.). Our CPL laws allow a 5' 90lb woman to insist an attacker reason with her vs. doing what they please due to having a size or weapon advantage ;-) Columbine changed tactics, however the AAPD still needs equipment and training improvements. They need modern optics on their patrol rifles and shotguns. Thankfully our PD is allowed to choose between an AR15 type rifle or 12ga shotgun for their patrol vehicles so they can meet these cowards with equal or greater force if required. However the MASSIVE advantage of modern optics/red-dots and advanced training techniques has not been allowed or realized by city (and possibly police) management. We need to give our AAPD as much overmatch capability as possible. Less than $10k would be required to outfit these rifles and shotguns with average optics. One thing the DHS brief left out is "Nike Defense." RUN! These criminals are typically not good shots, and hitting a fast moving target is difficult at best. I recommend everyone at least look into CPL laws and obtaining a permit. And I'd recommend to everyone with a CPL to take advanced training classes (The CPL training is not sufficient) and carry whenever possible. I feel safer on the streets knowing other people have the right to defend themselves or come to the aid of others.


Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 6:05 p.m.

@ G. Orwell Very correct! Open carry IS legal! But IMO, not the way to carry in A2. People can freak out that will lead to discussions with the AAPD, and while it may be a deternt for any BGs, for any serious BGs it makes you their first target... @ Rabid, Shooting 200 rounds is not nearly enough to be trained in the martial art of pistols, not even close IMO... To get a permit, I think one is only required to shoot <80 rounds and the accuracy standard is almost nonexistent, that's scary. There are several good instructors out there, Id highly recommend local MDFI ( for "real" training, their advanced classes go far beyond what even the AAPD does, thankfully some officers chose to train on their own time/dime in addition to the department training. Lastly...When SECONDS count, the police are only MINUTES away...


Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 4:14 p.m.

hail2thevict0r , I agree, your points are valid, some counties do make it harder than it should be. Luckily for me, when I applied Ann Arbor was not one of them (though I hear things have gotten worse). Yes it can be especially difficult if you don't have any gunnies to ask, which is why I heartily recommend Migunowners and the Michigan Coalition of Responsible Gun Owners for those who don't. Feel free to count me as a gunnie friend. You can find me at with the same screeen name.


Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 3:58 p.m.

And another thing, in more liberal towns, like the Ann Arbor area, there's really no political push to make these things more easy. So the law can be used as a deterrent to make it harder to buy a gun by simply making that information not easily accessible.


Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 3:55 p.m.

Rice, I wasn't trying to say that the system is hard to understand it's more so that if you don't have contacts (either at a range, friend or family) finding a place in your area that has all the information is not exactly easy. I do not have a CPL, but when attempting to buy my handgun here in Washtenaw county it was incredible hard to find out where to go to get even the license to purchase. Never having bought a handgun myself before it was extremely hard to navigate because of the law. In Michigan, your local police station, township, county or county police can all hand out license to purchase but it depends on your local area as to which one actually hands them out. I had to contact my township, which then directed me to my local police station, which then directed me to the Washtenaw county police headquarters in Ypsi. Even on their website it's not that clear. This same process applies to acquiring CPL's and has the added confusion of finding a place for the classes. It all comes down to how upfront your county is and how well they project the information on their websites or anywhere else. It's certainly not universal. What might be super easy to find in one county could be extremely hard to find in another.

Rabid Wolverine

Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 2:51 p.m.

Bcar, There are multiple types of classes that can be taken and count as credit for acquiring your CPL. There is not just the one class which will allow you to receive credit for your CPL course. I took a home defense class which taught the basics of handgun usage, our legal rights/limits/responsibilities, but also required 200 rounds of range time. These rounds were used very well in that we underwent multiple types of shooting scenarios and even were taught how to shoot from our weak hand/how to rack a shell if we were injured, etc. There are good classes out there in the area. A bit of research and talking to the instructors of the class goes a long way.

G. Orwell

Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 2:14 p.m.

Open carry is legal and you do not need a permit. If the public is informed and more accepting, more people would open carry. We need to de-brainwash (since AG Eric Holder has "brainwashed the public." In his own words) the public about guns.


Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 1:32 p.m.

@ hail2thevict0r, I agree, it costs $105 for the permit in our county, which is high IMO. Plus the cost of the basic course ($80-$150). IMO the basic course is not good/hard enough (plan on spending another $150-$300/ea for REAL fighting-with-a-gun classes). The basic class teaches about the laws etc. regarding the permit, but does not require nearly enough rounds to be fired or range time. The basic class is required for the permit, and there are tons of classes, just not many in liberal A2... There really isn't much of a shooting requirement...that should change...


Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 1:26 p.m.

I was a newbie when I applied and found all the information I needed on the relevant .gov sites and supplemented any other questions through contacts or I submit that those who cannot navigate that system as it currently stands may not be suited for carrying and the life and death decisions they may be faced with. As a former New York City resident, and if you Google Emily Miller and her series on seeking a permit in WQashington aint heard of (deliberately)confusing. I agree on the costs issue but there is mandatory 8 hours of training for each new CPL applicant. Granted that 8 hours is basic at best and further training should be pursued if at all possible. Mandating it at the level I think you are suggesting however will make the fiscal hurdle of getting one that much higher. Those who will most likely need one (middle to lower incomes) already have a high "buy in".


Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 12:31 p.m.

My problem with the CPL system is that it's fairly confusing to navigate from a "newbie" standpoint. The classes are not taught everywhere and the classes + the permit can get fairly costly. The CPL is handy just for the fact that you don't need a license to purchase every single time you want to by a handgun. I would like to see them more prevalent and far less expensive. I'd also like to see some sort of mandatory training to go along with them.


Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 11:19 a.m.

Statement - wacko's like this will do some horrific crime to try and kill people. So, a reflection on this is: Would he (they) do this if they knew the general law abiding citizenry could be also fully armed and ready to respond as well???? The age old deterrent to stuff like this - "would my intended victims be able and ready fight back". I believe a lot of crime (of all types) would be less likely to happen if the criminals knew there was a good chance their intended victims were also armed and ready to defend themselves in like manner. When criminals know their victims are unarmed and not capable to defend themselves - they become emboldened and are fearless in their quest to act out insane violence upon others - just like a video game. Arm up and be ready to defend against criminals.