Mass shooting
"Uvalde is like Columbine, and it is going to change the way police train"
John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor and former SWAT member Brian Higgins says cops failed after the shooting. LPO interviewed him exclusively.

 Brian Higgins is now a public safety consultant to customers around the world, providing training on public safety issues. Before that, he has been a police chief in Bergen County, New Jersey, for 27 years and a SWAT (Special Weapons And Tactics) member. Elite police units like the one ex-cop Higgins was part of are made up of members trained to carry out high-risk operations that are out the capabilities of regular officers, such as hostage rescue, counter-terrorism and operations against heavily armed criminals.

Based on your SWAT experience, the United States changed the way it handles a mass shooting after Columbine in 1999.

The Columbine shooting changed the way of operation in mass shooting. At Columbine it was not a failure of law enforcement, they did what was needed to be done at the tactical level. When officers respond to an incident , they must set up a perimeter, keep bystanders safe and wait for the tactical team to arrive with better equipment and better training.

It took the SWAT 45 minutes to get to Columbine. We realized that children and teachers would be killed during that period of time. That revolutionized police training for active shooting situations. It was a major change. By that time I was in SWAT, a better trained team. Just as when people are in trouble and they call the police, when police are in trouble, they call the SWAT.

"Los policías no están entrenados en este país, pero en Texas además fueron cobardes que no respondieron"

What has changed in the way of managing a shooting?

It has evolved. In the past, a lockdown was carried out, even in safe situations. Now run, hide and fight are promoted. It is not linear, there are options. The idea we train is that if there is a shooting, the first thing to do is to flee; if we cannot, we must hide. Hiding means protecting from the shooter. The worst scenario is when you cannot fight. The more you fight against the shooter, the more chances you get to increase your survivor ratio.

"Uvalde is like Columbine, and it is going to change the way police train"

Uvalde has set the sight on the way the police should act in a shooting.

The police no longer wait for the tactical team. We need 3 or 4 officials to go in. We must give them weapons and bulletproof protection. If you watch the videos, what they initially did in Uvalde once the shooter came in was the standard procedure. In the room, they approached the shooter and fired. They failed after the gunfire: they left the room because they had no ballistic resistance. But if they knew where the shooter was, they had to contain him and prevent him from shooting more children. You have to go find victims. We have to take a look at the whole investigation, but there were victims and they were not all dead, they died while the police delayed the response. There should have made a coordinated effort to get in. They had to enter what we call the fatal funnel. You can stood on both sides of the door so that when the shooter tries to get out, you can stop him. You must know where he is. Being in the corridor and away from the door is not consistent with the standards of tactics.

The world attention is on Uvalde. Everything we are attending to makes us think that there was a significant flaw in the police response. As with Columbine, we will see changes as a result of this. We must focus on specific training, on the target of location. Victims do not need to know police tactics: they should focus on what to do in a shooting situation.

They failed after the gunfire: they left the room because they had no ballistic resistance. But if they knew where the shooter was, they had to contain him and prevent him from shooting more children. You have to go find victims.

As an instructor in dangerous situations, one of the places you go is the church.

Prayer centers are our number one customer. There I have noticed that the parents say that they would not go out if their children are still inside the church at the time of the shooting. If the shooter enters the sanctuary, you have to leave the place. But we saw it in Uvalde, the parents who were at school or who came when they found out what was happening, they wanted to enter the place. Every time we got a shooting or there is a threat, the parents show up. We have to train people well so they can exactly understand what happens when there is a shooting.

There is a very common statement in the United States that the guns are not the problem, but those who shoot them.

Exactly. How we keep these guns away from potential shooters is what needs to be guaranteed. How to know if the person is violent? All the laws at the state or federal level attend to restrictions. We restrict the purchase of guns to citizens. I think we need to ensure that existing laws are enforced, not to ban guns, because criminals will continue to get guns on the black market.

In the past, those who committed crimes with firearms, as it was the case in New Jersey, they had a minimum sentence of 5 years for having committed a crime with a gun. Now, many of those who commit crimes are quickly back on the streets. We must prevent unqualified people from getting arms and match this with strict law enforcement.

Prayer centers are our number one customer. There I have noticed that the parents say that they would not go out if their children are still inside the church at the time of the shooting. If the shooter enters the sanctuary, you have to leave the place.

Face with public opinion, the police is not having a good time.

I think we are attending a questioning of the police. We need to regain trust. What matters is that communities empower law enforcement and monitor them. We need to be able to trust the police. There must be a balance in the trust of law enforcement, but the public also has the right to question what they do, how they do it and if it is the best way to do it.

After George Floyd, we have seen how people lost confidence in the police. We need to get it back. The priority when hiring police officers should be that they are the best candidates. While it is important that the person wearing a uniform represents the community, and is able to interact with that community, we should not focus on skin color in deciding who is going to help the public. We must not lose focus on diversity, but that should not be the reason for hiring.

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