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9 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

More officers hit by gunfire in Planned Parenthood attack than any other US incident since ’13.

DENVER — Eight minutes after the call went out about a gunman opening fire outside a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic, an officer called into his radio the words that no cop wants to hear: “I’ve been shot.” Hit in the hand, the officer asked for help — he had just arrived at the chaotic scene and didn’t know if the gunman was approaching him to finish him off. “I will shoot him if he moves toward you, brother,” another officer replied. The gunbattle ultimately claimed the life of one officer and injured a total of five, the highest police casualty count in a single incident in the U.S. in two years and a reflection of the danger that mass shootings pose to police.

A recording of police radio transmissions depicts a chaotic scene, with officers trying to find the gunman and save injured civilians while under deadly fire themselves. Police are wounded in about 25 percent of cases like the Nov. 27 Colorado Springs shooting, where officers arrive while the gunman is still firing, said Pete Blair, an associated professor of criminal justice at Texas State University. “It makes it the most dangerous call that a police officer can get, that I know of,” said Blair, who co-authored an FBI report that reviewed 160 active shooter incidents that occurred between 2000 and 2013. Until our society recognizes that simple truth, the list of place names that recently added Colorado Springs, Colo., and San Bernardino, Calif., will have no end. I don’t know which is more obscene: the fact that deadly shooting rampages have become almost routine or the way we so quickly seek to make each incident follow a familiar script.

The carnage happened at an agency that worked with the developmentally disabled — not the kind of public place terrorists generally choose for attacks. And officers hoping to save victims’ lives often confront the gunman without backup and without much information about what he looks like or where he is. The alleged assailant worked for the county health department, which was having a Christmas party there, so maybe this was the “disgruntled employee” storyline. Later, police briefly lost track of the gunman when he got inside the clinic. “We cannot locate the shooter,” one officer said. “He is in the Planned Parenthood building firing through the windows,” another said.

Three people were killed in the shootings — two civilians and officer Garrett Swasey, a member of the police force at the University of Colorado’s Colorado Springs campus who had gone to help. Most police and sheriff’s departments give individual officers the authority to decide whether to take on an active shooter immediately or wait for backup, said Sid Heal, a former Los Angeles County sheriff’s commander and now a consultant with the Police Policy Studies Council.

Following standard practice at the time, officers waited outside until commanders believed they had sufficient numbers, equipment and information to enter the building, but they came under widespread criticism for not moving in sooner. If the motive is deemed to have anything to do with religion, the far right will be able to rail about putting mosques under surveillance and giving the National Security Agency carte blanche to snoop into Americans’ lives. In last week’s mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, responding officers entered a social service center without knowing how many gunmen there were or whether they were still in the building. If an office-related grudge was the cause, we can all spend a couple of weeks bemoaning the inadequacy of mental health services in this country, then do nothing about it.

Similarly, I deplore extreme political rhetoric that might inspire the vulnerable to commit violence, but the truth is that I probably deplore it more if it’s rhetoric with which I disagree. We are riveted when the victims number in double digits or hostages are taken or the venue is a place such as Planned Parenthood or Sandy Hook Elementary School, but these killing sprees are but a drop in the bucket of blood. About two-thirds of deaths by gunshot are suicides. (Cue the mental-health discussion.) How many of these people would find other ways to kill themselves if a gun were not at hand?

Other countries have people with mental illness and disgruntled employees and jihadist preachers and political fanatics of every stripe, but no other developed nation has a body count remotely this high.

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