Helping Law Enforcement Agencies Prepare for Critical Incidents

A line of police cars and emergency vehicles at a major incident in the city.

Officers involved in critical incidents on the job – such as school shootings, the death of fellow officers or riots – will share lessons learned from these tragic incidents with law enforcement agencies in hopes of preventing tragedies in the future.

“Any time we go through one of these major incidents, we see what improvements can be made,” said Chief Jeff Capps of the College Station Police Department, who lost a colleague in the line of duty. “We want to share what we learned so that we can be better prepared to handle similar incidents in the future.”

The Bill Blackwood Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas (LEMIT) will host “Lessons Learned from Tragedies,” an all-day seminar for law enforcement personnel on Dec. 9, 2013 at Sam Houston State University. The event will features a police delegation from Finland, which faced two school shootings in 2007 and 2008; the Police Chief Capps from College Station, where Constable Brian Bachman was gunned down while serving an eviction warrant, and the Police Chief Tom Wibert from New Braunfels, who worked in East Lansing, Michigan during student riots following basketball playoffs.
A gun at a crime scene.“It’s in times of crisis we learn the most about ourselves and our agencies,” said Dr. Rita Watkins, Executive Director of LEMIT. “This free seminar will look at several critical incidents and the lessons that law enforcement agencies can take away to be better prepared in the future.”

In August, 2012, Constable Brian Bachmann of Precinct 1, a longtime deputy at the Brazos County Sheriff’s Office, was killed while serving a warrant near the Texas A&M campus. Police Chief Capps said the incident highlighted some issues in the system and, as a result of the tragedy, several changes were made at the department, including communication, training, equipment and preparation for the aftermath.

Some of those issues included: the inability of first responders to find an address, an understanding of the nature of the confrontation and appropriate responses, the lack of patrol rifles in law enforcement vehicles and how to deal with the aftermath of tragedies.
Police in riot gear prepare to quell a crowd.As the former chief of East Lansing, Michigan, home of Michigan State University, New Braunfels Chief Wibert will talk about how his former department changed their responses to student riots. In 2005, when 2,000 students went on a rampage after the basketball team lost a NCAA Final Four tournament, police were criticized for abuse, mismanagement and the launch of tear gas into neighborhoods.

As a result, the city developed new tactics to address riots and a plan to deal with media relations. The tactics including a reduced use of chemical weapons, new munitions, documentation with video footage and a concentration on managing instead of dispersing crowd. When new riots erupted in 2008, the police department held timely press conferences, provided reporters with fact sheets and video footage of the events, and included a statement from the city’s mayor. This time, the department was praised for its efforts.

An illustration of a school shooting using books and a gun.Finland was rocked by two school shootings in 2007 and 2008, which killed 15 students, two teachers and a school nurse in separate incidents. Sgt. Pasi Härkönen and Chief Inspector Juha Järvelin were part of the team that stormed the school in Kauhajok, Finland in 2008.

During the Kauhajok incident, multiple police departments responded, and the gunman set the school on fire, which made some areas impassable. Police and fire had never trained together to deal with an active shooter situations.

As a result of this incident, standard operating procedures have added on active shooter situations and all emergency responders, such as police, fire, emergency room, and first aid personnel, train together. In addition, Post Critical Incident Service were developed to address the emotional aftermath of the crisis.
In addition, the public response led to tighter guns law, more information sharing among agencies, school safety improvements and training of school personnel by police.

“It´s very difficult for the police to prevent mass shootings,” said Sgt. Härkönen. “The best way is to gather all available information from all authorities and share it. This would increase the probability of identifying the potential persons planning to act out. There is information that is known to the police, health care, military, social workers, schools, employment agencies and so on. The difficulty is to have all this information gathered in one place. If it was, it would be much easier to recognize the early warning signals.”

Police officer fires on a target at a shooting range.For Sgt. Harkonen, it is critical to plan – and frequently practice – responses to potential active shooters. Law enforcement also has to have suitable equipment and mental preparation to address these situations.

The program is being offered free of charge to Texas law enforcement agencies. In addition to providing valuable lessons to departments and agencies, the Institute also hosts a Post Critical Incident Seminar twice a year to help individual officers involved in tragic situations cope with the aftermath.

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