Monday, October 4, 2010

SWAT at Columbine - What is appropriate force?

Not to open old wounds, but this has always bothered me.

My daughter and I (18 and in college now) were watching Michael Moore's 2002 documentary, "Bowling for Columbine", just now. It brought up a lot of feelings from back then. What feelings? Anger. I've always been angry, even as it was happening, that the police didn't get their asses in to the school and start killing, as the case may be, killing children, children with guns, killing other children.

So we looked it up just now to see what the deal was.

First we found this site, "Into the Abyss, Columbine School Massacre":

"When asked why police didn't storm the building and confront the shooters, a commander of one of the SWAT teams, Denver police Lieutenant Frank Vessa answered "We're not the military. We can't have collateral damage. Our job was to save the lives of as many innocent as we could.

"With the investigation in full swing, the blame began to shift in a new direction. When it was reported that bombs, a shotgun barrel, a journal and several hand written notes had been found in clear view in Eric Harris's bedroom, the parents of the two teenage shooters took the brunt of the community's anger.

"The Harrises and Klebolds were accused of being negligent parents who had ignored their sons' violent tendencies. The anger of some was so great that the Klebolds began to receive death threats. This was in stark contrast to the placard, conveying the love and support of friends and neighbors, left on their front lawn immediately after the massacre.

"Friends and neighbors of the two families quickly jumped to their defense, claiming that they were good parents who had been completely unaware of their sons' disturbing behavior."

Into the Abyss - The Columbine Massacre

"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 U.S. proved tragically, heartbreakingly flawed on 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 around the time 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."

Huffington Post article.

Well, I understand that police procedures now have been changed. We ran into this with 9/11 too. We used to let terrorists play their hand, land the plane and deal with it then. 9/11 changed all that. Our actions on that day were patently wrong. But we didn't know any better. Maybe, we've changed our procedures for that type of situation now.

Does the same go for the Columbine situation?

Consider this. If I arrived and guns were going off in the school, would I stand outside waiting, or go in. It would make no sense going in unarmed. But there were police there, armed, who shot it out with the kids. When you hear kids dying, you just stand there? Letting it happen? But there was a SWAT team on the way. How long for them to get there? Forty-five minutes? That, is too long.

Why, didn't the police, paid to lay down their lives for children, go in and die, rush the child murderers, maybe they would have killed themselves sooner; maybe fewer children would have died.

When do these things seem to happen? The shooting in India that spurred on the process that ended Indian rule by Great Britain; 9/11, even Columbine?

These seem to happen when we have arrived at the juxtaposition of an old way of living with a new one. The establishment, the authority, or Government, doesn't understand the change that has happened, and incorrectly assesses and reacts to the situation.

There may not be a way around that. You do what you know to be right, from past experiences; when things change, you need to know that ahead of time, but who is a prognosticator? So we do the best we can with what we have.

Except, perhaps the British should have used their heads, rather than killing innocent people. Perhaps we should have paid more attention to Richard Clark's comments on how dangerous al-Qa'ida was just prior to 9/11? Perhaps, the police should have rushed the attackers in Columbine rather than waiting for SWAT.

SWAT is a great tool in police theory. But initially, before they are put into play, they are just that, theory. When theory cannot take place as action, you need to take other action. When its between protecting the police and the public, doesn't the public win out? SWAT is also there to protect the public, but sometimes, they can't, because they aren't there. Then, someone else needs to take over, make a command decision, a judgment call. Step in. Kick ass. Take names.

I'm just saying....

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