A screengrab from "Run, Hide, Fight," a video produced by the city of Houston. / www.readyhoustontx.gov via YouTube
WASHINGTON - Law enforcement authorities are increasingly advising school officials - and even young students - to physically confront suspects in future campus attacks as a final line of defense.
The advisories, now included in training videos and documents prepared by police, represent a major shift in tactics for law enforcement officials who have traditionally counseled potential victims to flee and hide while waiting for authorities to answer calls for help.
"These incidents are becoming a fact of life,'' University of Wisconsin-Madison Police Chief Susan Riseling told a meeting of law enforcement colleagues gathered here. "If there is no other option, take the shooter out.''
Riseling, who has produced an instructional video on dealing with so-called "active shooters,'' said that while police have long urged potential victims to avoid such confrontations at all costs, recent mass shootings are forcing a controversial change in the ranks.
"We're simply bringing citizens into reality,'' Charleston, S.C., Sheriff Al Cannon said. "We aren't being fair when we tell teachers to lock the door and cower in the corner with their children.''
Chuck Wexler, executive director of the law enforcement think tank Police Executive Research Forum, said the instructional shift reflects a "sea change'' in thinking for police who have been re-examining the guidance they provide to schools and other possible targets of mass casualty attacks.
Just as the 1999 Columbine High School massacre prompted police to adopt strategies calling for the aggressive pursuit of shooters at schools, shopping malls, office buildings and other venues to limit potential casualties, police officials said potential victims should be prepared to fight for their survival if there is no route of escape or safe place to hide.
Wexler said some of the new thinking has been drawn from the experience of the heroic passengers of United Flight 93, whose efforts to retake the hijacked airliner from four terrorists likely spared untold lives at the U.S. Capitol building, believed to be one of terrorists' targets during the 9/11 attacks.
During the passengers' battle with the hijackers, the airliner crashed into a Pennsylvania field.
"What Flight 93 taught us is that there are some things that the government can't do to protect you,'' Wexler said. "There are going to be times when you have to be prepared to fight for your life and risk dying because sitting back also has consequences of its own.''
Police officials said they were not advocating arming teachers, students, office workers or others to prepare for such attacks; they also emphasized that confronting the attacker should always be the last option.
The title of Riseling's video - Get Out, Call Out, Hide Out, Keep Out, Take Out - is arranged by the preferred order of response. So, too, is a city of Houston video called Run, Hide, Fight.
In written instructions developed by the U.S. Capitol Police, fighting back is described as the "last resort.''
"You must be committed to the actions you will take, and your attack must be explosive and violent,'' the Capitol Police instruction states. "You must do whatever it takes to survive and not worry about the consequences.
"You want to disable the offender with whatever means you can. This could involve throwing items or using objects to strike, stab or slash the subject.''
Pete Blair, a criminal justice professor at Texas State University, said that in many cases potential victims "have no choice'' but to defend themselves.
In a study of 84 active shooter incidents between 2000 and 2012, Blair said the shooter ended the attack before police arrived in 25 cases: The shooter committed suicide in 21 cases; in four cases, the shooter fled.
In 16 of the 84 incidents, victims stopped the attack before police arrived, either by subduing the attacker -13 cases - or shooting the attacker in three cases.
The case study does not include the 2011 shooting outside Tucson, which left six dead and 13 wounded including then-congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. The shooter, Jared Loughner, was finally stopped by a number of people who tackled the gunman and restrained him until police arrived.
"How long a shooter has to operate depends partly on the behavior of the victims,'' Blair said.
Patrick Berarducci, police chief of Medina, Ohio, and a retired Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent, said the confrontation instruction might be viewed as extreme, but it is "necessary.''
"For a long time, we have been teaching people to be victims,'' Berarducci said. "But sometimes the only choice you are going to have is to die or fight back. Law enforcement has matured. What we're focusing on is how we can save more people.
"I've been in this business for 39 years,'' he said. "I never thought it would get to this point.''
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