Stop The Killing:
Are your tactics
obscuring your objectives?
Dr. J. Pete Blair, Executive Director
ALERRT at Texas State University
In our classes, we teach students that the two primary objectives are to Stop the Killing, and
then, Stop the Dying. We spend the majority of the instructional time teaching several tactics
that are designed to help officers achieve both objectives. Unfortunately, we often find that
students become so focused on the tactics that they forget that it is the objective and not the
tactic that matters. This series of articles is designed to help resolve some of this confusion by
providing some general guidelines for response, as well as highlighting key decision points. The
first article will focus on the Stop the Killing phase of the attack.
As a law enforcement officer, when you first arrive on scene, your priority is to stop the attacker
from creating any more casualties. You must Stop the Killing. Your first task is to determine if
this is a legitimate active shooter call. The best indicator of this is active gunfire.
If you hear gunfire, move directly toward the sound of the gunfire in an attempt to quickly
isolate, distract, or neutralize the attacker. Do not wait for more officers. Specific movement
formations or lists of “what ifs” should not slow your accomplishing the most important
objective: Stop the Killing. In real-time, your movement speed should be faster than the
deliberate “no faster than you can shoot or think” that we teach in classes. It won’t be a sprint,
but it will probably be a fast jog. You probably will not be able to maintain a good diamond or
“T” formation. You won’t be doing much scanning of the rooms that you pass. You will
probably try to do a threshold evaluation of the room that the sound of gunfire is coming from.
Take a second and let this sink in. We are telling you that you will not be using many of the
tactics that we taught you in class. The tactics are too slow, and every second that you delay,
people are being murdered. You must get to the attacker and stop him from hurting anyone else.
“Isn’t this dangerous?!”
Yes, it is. This is probably one of the most dangerous situations that you will encounter in your
career. In almost a quarter of the cases where officers arrive when the attack is still ongoing, an
officer is shot. Fortunately, most of these officers survive. Our advice is based upon our research
into hundreds of these events.
These are the relevant facts:
1. The typical police response time is about 3 minutes.
2. The active killing part of most attacks is over in less than 5 minutes. This means that
typically there is about a 2 minute window where police action can make a difference.
3. 98% of the time you will be facing a single shooter. In the few cases where there was
more than one shooter, the shooters stayed together working as a team.
4. The fact that you hear active gunfire means that the attacker is focused on killing victims,
not on ambushing the police.
5. More than half of attackers are armed only with a pistol or pistols. Your basic body
armor will stop this. About a quarter of the attackers have rifles – a level III plate will
generally stop these rounds.
6. Every officer within range of your department’s radio transmission is heading your way
and will be there as fast as they can. Even if you are alone when you first enter the
building, you will not be alone for long.
7. Every second you delay creates the opportunity for the attacker to create more victims.
8. You have training, a weapon, and body armor. You will have backup. The people being
murdered do not. They are depending on you to save them.
No Active Gunfire
Now, let’s say that you arrive and there is no active gunfire. No one is running away from the
building, and you don’t see any injured people. It may be that you arrived after the attack has
stopped (this occurs a little more than half the time), or it may be that the gunfire is happening
somewhere inside where you cannot hear it.
In this case, you will probably move toward the nearest building entry, crack the door open and
listen. If you still don’t hear anything, you might radio dispatch, asking if they have any new
information. At this point, you might wait for other officers to show up, get in a formation, and
begin a more deliberate search of the structure clearing each room as you go. As another option,
you might get into formation and begin a quick sweep of the nearby hallways in an attempt to
learn what caused the initial call. There are several possible actions you might take depending
on the situation.
Either way, you will be using tactics that more closely resemble what we taught you in class.
You will most likely use a formal formation. Your speed will probably be no faster than you can
think or shoot. If you bypass rooms, the side officers in your formation will attempt to scan the
room as completely as possible on the way by.
This will be much slower than the approach you use when there is active gunfire. This is
because your driving force is different. There is no gunfire. It was a dispatch call that sent you
here. The call could be bogus. The attack could be over, or the attacker could be attempting to
ambush arriving officers. More caution is warranted.
If gunfire breaks out during this deliberate search, you will quickly move directly toward the
gunfire in order to stop the killing. Your formation may fall apart. You will be going faster than
you can comfortably shoot and think until you get to where the attacker is located.
It is critical that what if-ing and analysis paralysis not prevent you from getting into the attack
location to Stop the Killing as quickly as possible. Tactics are designed to help facilitate this
process. They should not replace the real objective - Stop the Killing as quickly as possible.
We are not asking you to be foolish or take unnecessary risks, but if the tactic slows you too
much, it is not valid for the situation.
In the next article, we will address saving the injured: Stop the Dying.