"Active shooter" scenarios have been a continuing focus for Police Chief Marc Montminy, especially since Aug. 3, 2010, when he and his officers answered frantic calls from a local beer warehouse.
The carnage at Hartford Distributors — eight men killed, the shooter dead by suicide as officers closed in — could have been worse, Montminy has said, if police had not arrived so quickly.
As that bloody day faded from public memory, the Dec. 14 slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown reanimated the fear of mass shootings in Connecticut and the nation. The heightened awareness was evident in the heavy police response to a report of a man with a gun last week at Manchester Community College.
Montminy, 48, a police officer for 26 years, has talked widely about "active shooter" scenarios and lessons learned since the Columbine school massacre in 1999. He recently answered several questions about the roles of police and the public in preparing for and responding to the ever-present danger of gun violence.
Q: What are police officers' priorities when a call comes in about an active shooter or a person with a gun who might start shooting?
A: Active shooter and a person with a gun are very different. Simply exposing a firearm is not illegal. Many people carry legally every day. That being said, schools and colleges typically prohibit weapons on the property. Police priority during an active shooter is to confront the shooter as quickly as possible. The shooter must then: surrender, take cover, engage the police, commit suicide. Any of these options is preferable to continued shooting.
Q: Is there a protocol for coordinated local/regional/state response for such calls? I ask because officers were streaming into the scene at the college for more than an hour.
A: Yes there is. Police agencies in the area have reciprocal agreements with each other. In addition, we have a "Blue Plan" which helps us pre-plan which town will back up others. In this case, MCC is also state property, so the state police are also involved. When you use SWAT teams to do searches, the officers get to the scene at different times. This is the reason for officers arriving an hour later. We don't have 20 heavily armed SWAT team members sitting in a room together waiting for a call.
Q: Does the public need to be better educated and more aware about how to react in these active shooter and potential active shooter incidents?
A: Following directions is important, and I think we need to train this in schools just like we do fire drills.
Q: There must have been 50 officers at MCC last Wednesday. No suspect was found and police aren't even sure that a gun was displayed. How do you, or can you, filter the hoaxes and befuddled/crazy calls from the good intent calls and the real thing?
A: Good question — once the decision to lock down is made, you have to manually make sure the scene is secure. You try to vet the complainant and get more detail, but in the end, a school campus is a very sensitive place right now, and we would rather be safe than sorry.
Q: MCC President Gena Glickman said at a state hearing Thursday that college police officers should be armed. Do you support that request?
A: Yes. Manchester Community College is a unique position with respect to public safety. The college has hired certified police officers with POST certification (the same certification required of municipal police officers), yet has not armed the officers in question. In effect, the college system has created an expectation of police protection without any means to provide such protection.
Q:There's obviously heightened awareness about gun violence in the wake of Newtown. How can the police department capitalize on that awareness?
A: I think this is an opportunity for people to evaluate their own situations at home. Are all of your weapons secured? Is anyone in your home unsafe to be around weapons? Now is the time for people to take some personal responsibility.
Q: A Manchester police officer was accidentally shot in the foot during the search Wednesday. Doe he face a long recovery?
A: I think he does. I think the damage is traumatic and my guess is that he is going to have to undergo several surgeries.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times