Monday Morning Quarterbacks Should Stick To Football E-mail
In his opinion piece "Have lethal force standards crossed the line?" (September 2002 American Police Beat) Chuck Klein characterizes the April 1999 attack on Columbine High School in Jefferson County as an incident indicative of officers "worrying more about the safety of the police rather than an obligation to duty." Mr. Klein, a former police officer, joins the chorus of uninformed, second-guessing, macho critics of the Columbine response, none of whom were there that day. These literary Rambos advocate tactics that would likely have left a trail of dead and wounded officers - unable to assist anyone - leading into the school. Our responding deputies quickly engaged the heavily armed suspects, at distances well beyond the effective range of handguns and shotguns. Additional deputies established a perimeter, as dictated by generations of police training, to secure the building and prevent the escape of the gunmen.

Ad hoc teams of courageous deputies enlisted officers from two other agencies and quickly formed entry teams, using their individual tactical training to enter the school before SWAT teams were even en route to the scene.  Deputies moved in under fire to assist the scores of terrified students fleeing the building, safely evacuating many injured children. Were the responders fearful? Were they cautious? They would have been foolish not to be. Regardless, despite the unimaginable chaos, the law enforcement professionals who responded to the terrorist attack on Columbine that awful day performed their duties in a disciplined, exemplary manner.

Examination of the Columbine response has produced new options for officers responding to the next tragedy. American law enforcement has forged closer relationships with fire and EMS agencies, planning and training with them and schools in their communities to ensure clear understanding of various operational roles. Our SWAT team, working with the NTOA, led the way in training our deputies and officers of other local departments in urban rifle and active shooter tactics. We now have far better public safety communications capabilities throughout Colorado. And members of my staff repeatedly shared the lessons of Columbine with our colleagues in law enforcement around the United States - reliving that horrible experience with each presentation.

Monday morning quarterbacks will continue to express their views from the safety and comfort of their recliners. We have learned, to paraphrase President Theodore Roosevelt: It is not the critic that counts. Those valiant souls in the arena, faces marred by dust and sweat and blood, who actually strive to do the deeds, are those whom we honor - the men and women of law enforcement who selflessly face danger every day - especially those who responded to Columbine.

John P. Stone is the sheriff of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office in Colorado.

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