Spurred by the increase in campus shooting incidents in recent years, the Department of Public Safety has transitioned to a new protocol where officers immediately respond to active shooting situations on campus.
In the past, DPS officers would set up a perimeter around the shooting area until a SWAT team from LAPD arrived. Now, DPS officers will immediately engage in order to detain the shooter and tend to injured victims.
This decision was made mainly to provide a quicker response to an active shooter. The former protocol required DPS dispatchers to call in a LAPD SWAT team, located in downtown Los Angeles. According to Deputy Chief David Carlisle, it would take this team at least 20 minutes to gear up and drive to campus, during which time lives would be unnecessarily lost.
“A typical shooting situation lasts for three to five minutes total,” Carlisle said. “In that situation, time equals lives. We simply can’t afford to wait for LAPD to make it here.”
DPS officers are now expected to be prepared to respond to an active shooter situation at any time. In order to meet this expectation, the department puts each officer through Multiple Assault Counter-Terrorism Action Capabilities training. Every officer repeats the training annually, and the department carries out a variety of live-action training drills in campus buildings during University breaks.
MACTAC training teaches a variety of skills for handling a shooting situation, such as holding a formation when entering a building or breaking down a barricaded door. One of the main points emphasized in this training is specialized medical skills — such as how to make a tourniquet — so that officers can help stabilize victims until ambulances arrive on the scene.
“This is ongoing training, so it’s something that we want our officers to continue to repeat and relearn,” said Sergeant Ricardo Gonzalez, who is in charge of training DPS officers in MACTAC techniques. “Our focus has been on educating the officers so that they feel prepared. I think we’re ready.”
Though DPS will serve as the first responders on the scene, LAPD will still be called in to support DPS officers. The MACTAC training that DPS officers receive is the same training that LAPD officers receive for dealing with terrorist activity in the Los Angeles area. Both departments trained together over the summer in order to work together fluidly if an active shooter situation were to occur on campus.
These trainings teach officers to focus first on stopping the shooter, and then tending to victims’ medical needs. In another change to previous protocol, when ambulances are called to the scene, medical workers will be able to immediately enter the building. This decision was also made due to the necessity of a rapid response in order to save victims’ lives.
“In this type of situation, every minute matters,” Carlisle said. “We’re making adjustments that will hopefully cut down our response time so that we can be as effective as possible. It’s all about reacting and being able to react quickly.”
Even with these changes, Carlisle fears that DPS won’t be able to arrive quickly enough to stop the shooter, who will likely either flee the scene or commit suicide once police arrive. This means that students, staff and faculty must be equally trained in how to react to an active shooter situation. DPS has begun training faculty members using a program called “Run, Hide, Fight,” which earned its name from the three options any student or faculty member has during an active shooter situation. Its training involves developing spacial awareness of where a person can hide in a room and how to emotionally prepare for defending oneself against a shooter.
DPS is also offering to extend this training beyond faculty to student organizations. Carlisle said he and his department accept the fact that they can’t prevent a shooter situation, but they are continuing to seek out options to lower the risks and improve their response to such a crisis.
“This is a high-risk, low-likelihood situation,” Carlisle said. “But we have to take every precaution we can to keep our students and our faculty safe. We prepare for the worst, and then hope for the best — that we’ll never have to use this [training].”