(NewsNation) — The latest outbreak of gun violence in the wake of mass shootings in New York, Philadelphia and Texas, has rattled the United States.
As of Tuesday, 34 shootings have happened across the nation since the massacre of 19 children and two teachers at a Uvalde, Texas, elementary school, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
These incidents are putting police active shooter training under America’s microscope. It’s happening amid an investigation into a police chief’s response in Uvalde — which many people have scrutinized because they feel he didn’t decide to enter the school as quickly as they had hoped.
Former FBI special agent Phil Andrew and Kristen Ziman, a former officer who was the chief of police during a mass shooting in Aurora, Illinois, in 2019, joined NewsNation to answer viewers’ questions.
In February. 2019, a former Henry Pratt Manufacturing Plant employee killed five people and injured several police officers.
Q: How exactly are officers trained to prepare and protect people in a mass shooting? And is it different in big cities versus small towns?
Ziman said training has evolved since the 1999 Columbine school shooting, which was the beginning of how police thought about how they should respond to active shootings. It’s now evolved into active shooter training.
“It was typically that officers would respond to take a perimeter and then call for the SWAT team,” she explained. “In Columbine and subsequent shootings, you have perhaps casualties inside that maybe would have survived had there been a triage and had there been a more rapid response inside. So we look at every single incident, every single massacre that occurs, and we really develop training beyond that.”
Ziman continued: “That has evolved into the active shooter training that we have now where the response is there is no waiting for the SWAT team. If you are the first officer on the scene, and there is no backup with you, you’re still going in to stop or neutralize the threat in any way you can.”
If an officer is outgunned by a suspect, Ziman said she believes an officer should still rush in at the first sign of danger.
“That’s what we suit up for. That’s what the mindset that officers, as part of their training, is that you run toward the gunfire,” she said. “When an officer puts their uniform on, and every day they recognize and acknowledge the fact that they might not go home, but that’s what makes first responders so special is because they run toward things.”
Andrew said powers are divided between local police departments and state and federal agencies, and that division can cause confusion. He said a local municipality usually takes the lead on response and the investigation, but as it evolves, additional agencies arrive. Then, there is some decision as to whether it has a nexus to domestic terrorism or international terrorism, which can affect jurisdiction, he said.
“In some cases, as we’ve seen in Texas, where they don’t have the same resources necessarily, then a state police, the state troopers, they may take over the investigation, largely due to the level of resources a department may have,” he explained.
Andrew continued: “In many cases … it’s a multi-agency response. When the call goes out, anybody in that vicinity is going to respond. That may be that it could be state troopers; it could be a federal officer. So, initially, there can be a bit of confusion, and it is incumbent on all of those agencies to be training, to be planning, and make sure that they know each other and are coordinated when they arrive.
Q: A firearms requalification program in Ohio is required once a year. NewsNation viewer Matt Sullivan from Ohio asked, why do police officers not have to qualify for firearms training more often?
Andrew said there are 18,000 policing bodies across the United States, and each one has a different training standard. While a standard expectation for police training across the country needs to be coordinated, he said the main problem that should be addressed is getting weapons out of “dangerous” people’s hands.
“One of the things I would say is that we’re looking at the police response in every one of these cases. We can do all kinds of kind of a judgment in the aftermath, but the truth is, this is always kind of worst-case scenario response,” he said.
Andrew continued: “Once someone that is heavily armed with an AR-15 with armor-piercing bullets and in armor themselves is in a position to be causing mayhem, it doesn’t matter how quickly we can get police there — there will be injuries; it’s really just a question of how many injuries there will be. And police are coming as quickly as they can. Throughout the country, they’re very well trained, and well prepared in most cases. But we’ve got to do more upstream to make sure the dangerous people don’t get these weapons in the first place, because right off the bat that puts the police at a disadvantage.
Watch the full interview in the media player above.