Rapid Deployment: Find and Eliminate Threats

Some special tactics practiced by police today were borrowed from the military after the bitter lessons from the Columbine High School shootings.

Inspired by the Columbine High School massacre in April 1999, rapid deployment training represented a radical departure from the way law enforcement long had approached actively violent situations.

Prior to Columbine, in 12 students and one teacher were slain and 23 other people were wounded, the approach toward a gunman with potential hostages was to “isolate, wait for SWAT, and negotiate,” meaning to maneuver the bad guy into a place he could not leave, bring in a tactical team and a hostage negotiation team, as well.

Columbine changed that: The two gun-wielding students entered the school with no apparent thought of taking hostages, intent only on killing people, rapidly.

“That didn’t work, and that probably was the genesis of this to change tactics,” said St. Charles Deputy Police Chief Steve Huffman.

The “isolate-wait” strategy still applies in many situations, he said. But in Columbine, everything was happening rapidly and police learned they needed to have another approach to that kind of situation.

So, just as the military borrowed some strategies from police SWAT teams, police in turn learned that some military tactics could be used in volatile situations like Columbine, where the location of the gunmen was uncertain and officers had to systematically and thoroughly check a large facility with many nooks and crannies that could hide a threat to officers.

“I guess in laymen’s terms, the rapid deployment is (when) you have a fast-moving situation,” St. Charles Police Chief Jim Lamkin said. “You need to bring personnel in place, line them up where you need to have them and go in and neutralize the problem.”

Speaking to the media with Deputy Chiefs Steve Huffman and David Kintz, the three also pointed to the introduction in 2005 of a new component to the rapid deployment and other types of training: Simunition.

Think of Simunition — a brand name for simulated ammo — as paintballs in bullet form. The rounds are like real bullets, but instead of a lead, for example, the projectile portion of the bullet actually is a small paintball, which the Simunition guns — in models that match the officers’ service pistols and rifles — fire off at about 450 feet per second.

The rounds are fired in simulated training situations — such as Thursday’s rapid deployment training — by both the “good guys” and the “bad guys.” That, Lamkin said, makes the training scenarios much more realistic. Getting hit hurts.

Kintz said the Simunition weapons allow the officers to train with weapons have the same weight, feel and action as their own guns. At the same time, Huffman said, the Simunition rounds sting enough to be an incentive for the officers to want to avoid being hit.

The also pointed out that the rapid deployment scenarios the department trains for changes from year to year — sometimes in a school setting, sometimes in offices, other times in warehouses. Much of it depends on the facilities the department can borrow, usually in St. Charles.

But Lamkin said the department often will adjust the training when situations occur somewhere else in the country. That allows the department to monitor not only how the department is evolving in its response to situations, but also to direct some of that evolution by adjusting its training to improve the responses. That is really how rapid deployment came about, he said.

“In real situations, the benefit of training is that you fall back on your instincts based on what you’ve learned in training,” Lamkin said, “so that you can deal with a situation … and respond appropriately.”

The department from time to time invites other departments to participate in the training, although this time around, it involved only St. Charles officers.


  • Dec. 21, 2012:
  • Dec. 17, 2012: After Newtown: District 303 Parents Worry About School Safety

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