Preparing for mass shooters is part of modern policing - KOAA.com | Continuous News | Colorado Springs and Pueblo

Preparing for mass shooters is part of modern policing

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Ballistic equipment donated to Colorado Springs Police Officers by Shield 616 Ballistic equipment donated to Colorado Springs Police Officers by Shield 616

Our local police must be ready to respond when there's an active shooter. The high powered rifles and indiscriminate manner of the gunmen who've carried out these crimes in the past of have led to changes in the law enforcement approach.

Public Information Officer Lt. Howard Black of the Colorado Springs Police says officers regularly receive training in how to respond to a mass shooter. It could be a simple table top exercise with officers being asked at the beginning of their shifts to describe how they would respond if a shooting were currently underway. Other times, the training could involve more elaborate role playing scenarios.

The 1999 Columbine High School shooting is widely viewed as the turning point in the law enforcement response.

"When I first came on, it was get that scene secure, make sure that we are able to set up perimeters and then we wait for tactical to come in the environment," explains Lt. Black. "Those tactics clearly have changed."

Today, the first officer on scene rushes toward the gunman to confront them.

"Our officers are taking much greater risk in moving to that threat and you move to that threat appropriately," says Lt. Black.

The high risk is due to the fact that the responding officer is likely to be out gunned. For example, gunmen Robert Dear and Noah Harpam were both armed with high-powered AR-15 rifles when they carried out their mass shootings in Colorado Springs nearly 2 years ago. 

"Basically law enforcement officers have a soft body armor," explains Steven Phillips, a former law enforcement officer and board member for the Christian charity Shield 616.

"They don't have this ballistic gear, what we call level 4, that would allow rifle fire, multiple impacts of rifle fire to be stopped."

Their group donates that tactical gear to law enforcement officers across America be better protected against mass shooters.  Phillips said during the Planned Parenthood shooting, Garrett Swasey was that first officer on scene.

"Officer Swasey, obviously did not have that gear and died as a result and would have survived based on the location of the impact, he would have survived if he had that gear," Phillips said.

Shield 616 founder Jake Skifstad used to be a Colorado Springs Police Officer. He was one of the first officers on scene at the New Life Church shooting in 2007. That gunman, Matthew James Murray, was shot and killed by an armed security officer at the church. However, the experience led to Skifstad to start piecing together protective equipment for himself. 

He had plans to try and get more distributed to other officers when the Planned Parenthood shooting occurred and it motivated him to take a step of faith and start the non-profit. The name Shield 616 is taken from the New Testament verse of Ephesians 6:16, in which the Apostle Paul encourages Christians to "take up the shield of faith."

Phillips says their goal is to provide the protective equipment to every officer in every city, county and state in the US.  So far, they've paired about 1,000 officers in 8 states with donors who help to buy the equipment. Phillips explains that they use a donor-based system in hopes of strengthening the bond between citizen and police officer.

"They really kind of view them as this is my officer, I'm praying for them, I can encourage them, I can send them a note just telling them that I believe in them, what they're doing," Phillips says.

Phillips and Skifstad hope the donations will free-up more money in police departments to help pay for more officers to receive the in-depth role playing training because stopping mass shootings are a part of modern policing.

"It does feel that way and yes, you have to vigilant and you have to be prepared," says Lt. Black.

Skifstad was unavailable for an interview today because he was actually in Minnesota making an equipment donation to officers there.

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