LACONIA — "We may like to think it will never happen here," Police Chief Chris Adams told some 50 people attending a class on how to react should they find themselves faced with an active shooter at the Laconia Public Library this week. "But, what if?
Adams explained that several years ago active shooter situations became an element of emergency preparedness in the department's strategic plan. Apart from training and equipping officers, he said the department has also sought to prepare citizens by offering classes at a number of workplaces. Following the shootings in San Bernardino, California, a class was offered to the general public, which was quickly oversubscribed, prompting the department to move it from the police station to the larger venue at the library and schedule a second class to accommodate the numbers.
Capt. Matt Canfield began by distinguishing active shooter situations from other confrontations with potential for violence. He described an active shooter as someone seeking to kill as many people as possible in as short a time as possible, usually in a confined or crowded space. Unlike someone taking hostages in the course of committing a crime, active shooters are not open to reason or willing to negotiate and do not expect to survive. They often seek particular victims, but will take targets of opportunity while searching for them, and after finding them continue to kill and maim until they are stopped or take their own lives. Canfield stressed that these situations occur suddenly, develop rapidly and often end quickly.
In retrospect, Canfield said that active shooters frequently behave in ways that foreshadow their turn to violence. They may abuse alcohol or drugs, withdraw from others, undergo severe mood swings, or overreact to challenging circumstances. Indications of potential violence, he said, should be reported to the appropriate authorities. Likewise, he said that suspicious activity should be reported to the police, noting that after the shootings in San Bernardino neighbors admitted to concerns about the couple, but failed to report them.
Canfield said the tactics of law enforcement in active shooter situations changed following the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999 when 13 were killed and 24 injured by a pair of heavily armed shooters, who took their own lives. There, he explained, the school was locked down and the perimeter secured while police waited the arrival of a SWAT team. The result was that the shooters were left to roam the building seeking more victims.
Today, Canfield said, the first officers on the scene, who are armed with rifles, advance in teams of two or four directly to the sound of gunfire with the sole intent of stopping the shooter as quickly as possible. Officers will pass over the wounded in their pursuit of the shooter. Everyone else should raise their hands and spread their fingers and follow the officers' instructions. Canfield stressed that because these situations are "chaotic," every effort should be made to stay calm and not add to the confusion.
For those finding themselves amid an active shooter shooter situation, Canfield said the best response is "Run-Hide-Fight." After showing a video developed by the Police Department in Houston, Texas, he said that the first step is to escape without delay, which requires being familiar with the surroundings and nearest exits. If escape is barred, the alternative is to hide, by locking or barricading a door or taking cover out of view and, above all, remaining silent. As a last resort, with life itself at stake, fight by seeking to distract and overcome the shooter, using anything at hand as a weapon. Canfield emphasized that lives can be saved by a determined group who outnumber a shooter.
Several people asked about how to respond if they were armed and found themselves confronted by an active shooter. Adams replied that citizens are entitled to use deadly force if they believe their well-being or lives are threatened.
Canfield cautioned that the presence of an armed citizen without appropriate training could further confuse what would likely be a chaotic situation.
"Carrying a gun without the training to use it," he said, "can be more dangerous than not carrying a gun at all."
The department is offering a second class on Tuesday, Jan. 26, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., at the Laconia Public Library, for which they are few remaining spaces. To enroll, contact Cheryl DeTurk at the Laconia Police Department, 524-5257, extension 322.