‘Seconds matter’: Training prepared Bend officers for worst-case shooter scenario: entering scene alone

'Seconds matter': Training prepared Bend officers for worst-case shooter scenario: entering scene alone

The officers had just begun their night-shift roll call and briefing Sunday evening at Bend’s police headquarters when the city’s 911 operators started receiving frantic calls.

A shooter was spraying bullets at the Forum Shopping Center, a little over a mile from the police building.

When the emergency call came in over the dispatch radio, just after 7 pm, all of the officers in the briefing – about a dozen – jumped up and ran out the door.

“Minutes matter, seconds matter, in active threat situations,” Bend Police Chief Mike Krantz said five days after the shooting. He added: “That time counts, and our officers know that.”

As local law-enforcement agencies across the country grapple with common mass-casty shootings, their training and tactical response areual under scrutiny.

Three months after police in Uvalde, Texas, waited 74 minutes before confronting a gunman inside an elementary school as he 19 children and two teachers, the five Bend police officers who were first on the scene Sunday followed their training, Krantz said.

The officers entered the shooting scene without hesitation or explicit permission, as the sound of gunfire pounded in their ears.

It’s normally a four-minute drive east down US 20 from the Bend Police Department to the Forum.

The three officers who arrived first made it in half that time.

Two other officers, who had been out on patrol since noon in the central Oregon city, arrived on the scene at about the same time as the three night-shift officers.

As terrified shoppers streamed out of the shopping complex, the officers learned the shooter was inside the Safeway, at the east end of the development.

Two people were killed by the gunman – customer Glenn Bennett, 84, who was outside the Safeway’s front door when police arrived, and Donald Surrett, Jr., 66, a Safeway produce manager, who was shot at the back of the store.

Less than a minute after arriving, all five of the officers who were first on the scene entered the grocery store, three through the front door and two racing around the building to come through the back.

They didn’t wait to come up with a tactical plan or for the department’s SWAT team, which was on its way and later helped clear the store and nearby buildings.

“Our officers don’t need permission (from superiors) to enter a dangerous situation and address the threats or save lives,” Krantz told The Oregonian/OregonLive. “In active threat situations, our training specifically relies on the fact that you’re the first one on scene, you’re the first one going in.”

It wasn’t always this way.

Before the shooting at Columbine High School in 1999, police were taught to set up a perimeter and wait for a tactical team, like SWAT, to arrive at an active shooting, said Steve Albrecht, a threat-assessment expert and former sergeant and domestic- convict for the San Diego Police violence Department.

That model has drastically shifted since, said Albrecht, who has written several books used in police training across the country.

Every police agency in the US is now trained to get to the scene as quickly as possible and engage with the shooter.

“Most of these perpetrators either get into a shootout with the cops (in order to) get killed by them, like a suicide-by-cop situation, or they try to kill cops, or they kill themselves as soon as the police arrive, Albrecht said.

The latter is what happened in Bend, a city of about 100,000 with a low violent-crime rate.

As the officers bore down on him in the Safeway store, the 20-year-old gunman, Ethan Miller, shot himself to death. An AR-15, 30 rounds of ammunition and a shotgun were found near his body.

Police later confirmed Miller had worked at the Safeway for a short time. More than 100 shell casings were recovered from the Forum Shopping Center, inside the Safeway and at the apartment buildings across the street.

Bend police are not identifying the responding officers at this time.

Confronting an active shooter who has a high-powered weapon is the most dangerous situation police can knowingly walk into, Krantz said.

His officers made the right call that night, he added. They followed their training – which might be why they didn’t need to fire their weapons.

The Bend Police Department completed an active-threat training just three months ago, a weeklong program held at a lodge on Mount Bachelor. It was a live, scenario-driven training in which officers practiced entering an active shooting scene with the sound of gunfire and smoke surrounding them, Bend police communications manager Sheila Miller said.

The program – developed by Bend police training officers who gather best practices from other agencies – is completed at least every two years, Krantz said.

While officers rely on their training, experience and instincts to guide them, each active shooter threat is chaotic, complicated and unique, said Wendy Patrick, of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals.

“It’s hard to recreate after the fact what a law-enforcement officer is faced with in the moment – ​​the adrenaline, what they hear, what they see, what they sense, what they might know in advance about the shooter or the location,” Patrick said.

It’s unclear at this time how many people were in the Safeway when Miller started firing in the parking lots nearby, Krantz said.

A lot of people heard the gunshots and ran out of the grocery store. Most had either fled or were hiding in the store by the time the first officers arrived, Krantz said.

With limited information available, those officers were able to determine that they weren’t dealing with a hostage situation or a barricaded shooter – scenarios that would have drastically changed their approach.

“We wouldn’t force our way into a freezer, for example, and engage in a confrontation with a shooter while there are potential other hostages,” Krantz said.

Those situations are rare in active-shooter events; they usually occur in domestic-violence cases.

“It’s not like in the movies where there’s a bullhorn and we try to talk to the guy or call them on the phone, you know, find out what he wants to get him to come out — that almost never happens,” Albrecht said. “What makes these (active shooting scenes) so difficult for the police is oftentimes they don’t know or aren’t familiar with the layout of the business or building they’re entering, which could be a store, a movie theater, a shopping mall or a factory.”

Krantz said he doesn’t know whether the officers who entered the building made commands to the shooter, but that it’s “clear” the gunman knew the officers were inside the store.

Because he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, “we’ll never know what the shooter was thinking or saw,” Krantz added.

Once the murder investigation is complete, Krantz and his police department will break down their response to the Safeway shooting in a “critical debrief,” analyzing the experience and how they can improve.

“We’re never going to get everything 100% right,” Krantz said. “We’re going to do the best we can, we’re going to train the best we can, and give our officers the best tools.”

— Savannah Eadens; [email protected]; 503-221-6651; @savannaheadens

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