FEATURED IN LEADERSHIP
As horrific as the Norway tragedy is, it would be all too easy to dismiss it as irrelevant to American policing because of the geographical distance. This would be a grievous error and, candidly, downright asinine.
Here’s the highpoints of what must be realized (some might say remembered):
1. This can happen anywhere, anytime, in any society. This was Norway, not some third-world dictator-led country. It doesn’t matter how small-town, gate guarded, ultra-high society your jurisdiction is – this could happen where you work. To think otherwise is foolish and irresponsible. Consider this: When it comes to terror, whether foreign or domestic, attacking the privileged is often a priority.
2. Response must be immediate and cops must be willing to engage, even when they are short on resources. We learned this one the hard way with Columbine, the event that forever changed the way cops respond to active shooter events. Consider this statement from Police Chief Sissel Hammer regarding the delayed response, "I ask for understanding of the fact that it takes time to send out a special armed force. The personnel have to be notified, they must put on protective gear, arm themselves and get out to the area." While this was occurring, a cold-blooded and calculated killer was meticulously killing dozens of defenseless young people for more than one hour.
3. In line with the above, we know that most of these killers are lacking when it comes to courage. They will surrender or self-destruct when confronted. Absent that confrontation, they will continue to wreak havoc. This has played out so many times that I’m beginning to wonder if there is genetic predisposition towards cowardice on the part of these attackers.
4. The danger of a lone-wolf terrorist cannot be underestimated. This is the greatest fear of every intelligence official because the chance of detection prior to the event is greatly diminished. Some of these lone-wolfs are so inept that they get themselves caught before they can carry out their plan. But this is not always the case and we have seen examples, e.g. the Unabomber, where they are devious and downright brilliant. The lesson? We need to listen when citizens talk to us about the crazy guy that is stockpiling fertilizer in his garage and we need to take a second look at the guy who is meticulously writing a two thousand page treatise on the wrongs of the American government. If there is an early detection, it will be because someone acted on a suspicious observation.
Should there be any doubt about the importance of citizen involvement and appropriate police intervention, take a look at what just happened in Texas: A warped and well-equipped soldier was hours away from wreaking havoc at Ft. Hood. A gun shop owner (who happens to be a retired cop) thought something was suspicious about the situation and alerted authorities. As a result, a catastrophe was averted.
Bottom line: It’s your job and your responsibility to be ready, willing and able to respond. Do not let well-meaning but short-sighted community leaders dissuade you with the old, “It won’t happen here. You’re just being paranoid or overreacting.” The horrible truth is that it never happened anywhere before it actually happened. Think about it. And when it does happen, the question will be, “Why weren’t you ready? How could you have let this happen?”
This does not mean that you have to turn your police officers into heavily armed tacticians driving armored vehicles. It does mean that you need to think through the possibilities, assess your capabilities and shore up your weaknesses to the best of your ability. Anything short of that is not fulfilling your obligation to the public you are supposed to be protecting.