- The Washington Times - Monday, April 20, 2009

GOLDEN, Colo. | The first officers on the scene had never trained for what they found at Columbine High School - no hostages, no demands, just killing.

In the hours that followed, the nation watched in horror as the standard police procedure for dealing with shooting rampages in the United States proved tragically, heartbreakingly flawed April 20, 1999.

Two officers exchanged fire with one of the teenage gunmen just outside the school door, then stopped - as they had been trained to do - to wait for a SWAT team. During the 45 minutes it took for the SWAT team to assemble and go in, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot 10 of the 13 people they killed that day.

The killers committed suicide about the time that the makeshift SWAT team finally entered, but the SWAT officers took several hours more to secure the place, moving methodically from room by room. One of the wounded, teacher Dave Sanders, slowly bled to death.

“It was really frustrating,” said Marjorie Lindholm, a grief counselor and speaker at police training seminars. Miss Lindholm was a 16-year-old student in a science classroom where two classmates used their T-shirts to try to stanch Mr. Sanders’ bleeding. “We were told ‘They’re on their way, they’re coming.’ ”

Ten years later, Columbine has transformed the way police in the United States deal with shooting rampages. After the tragedy, police across the country developed “active-shooter” training, which calls for responding officers to rush toward gunfire and step over bodies and bleeding victims, if necessary, to stop the gunman - the active shooter - first.

Police now are trained that a gunman in a mass shooting kills a person every 15 seconds.

Across the country, police say the strategy has saved lives time and again.

In North Carolina, active-shooter training became part of the state’s law enforcement academy curriculum in 2001. Last month, a rampage at a Carthage, N.C., nursing home that killed a nurse and seven helpless patients was cut short when 25-year-old Officer Justin Garner entered the place alone and wounded the gunman with one shot. Mr. Garner had undergone active-shooter training.

For three decades before Columbine, law enforcement had followed a contain-and-wait strategy calculated to prevent officers and bystanders from getting killed. That strategy and the creation of SWAT teams were prompted by the 1966 sniper attack at the University of Texas at Austin, where Charles Whitman climbed a clock tower and opened fire with a high-powered rifle, killing 14 people.

Columbine prompted the most sweeping changes in police tactics since then.

Police across the country now employ so-called contact teams, in which patrol officers from any jurisdiction band together to enter a building in formation to confront the gunman and shoot it out with him if necessary.

SWAT teams go in after that, usually to make sure there are no other gunmen or to rescue hostages.

During the 2007 massacre that left 33 people dead at Virginia Tech, three of the first five officers who entered the classroom building where most of the victims died were patrol officers trained to deal with an active shooter, according to an official report on the tragedy.

Earlier this month, police tactics came under scrutiny after a gunman killed 13 people and committed suicide at an immigrant center in Binghamton, N.Y. Police arrived within three minutes of the first call but held back. It took 43 minutes for a SWAT team to enter.

Police said by the time they arrived the gunfire had stopped, and because they thought there was no active shooter in the building, they decided to wait for the SWAT team.

In another change prompted by Columbine, SWAT teams across the country have armed medics and rescue teams trained to carry the wounded out under fire.

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