If the shooting in Parkland, Florida was a call for us to consider the sometimes substandard selection and training of our police officers, then the dramatic end to a serial bomber’s reign of terror in Austin, Texas was the gold standard of what we are looking for in a police officer.
The contrast between the responses to these two events is striking. In Parkland, an officer, or officers, refused to enter the scene of an active shooter despite nearly universal training among law enforcement agencies on this very topic that demands otherwise and has been in place for decades. In Austin, a suspected serial bomber is pursued by police officers down a stretch of highway. There is no training I am aware of that prepares officers to pursue and stop what could be a mobile bomb.
Police officers train to confront armed suspects, whether that suspect is in the setting of a routine police encounter or engaged in murder as an active shooter. While the vast majority of police interactions do not include the use of firearms, all police officers consider the fact that they may encounter someone with a gun. But a bomb? After 9/11, counter-terror training, including some basic understanding of explosives, became a part of law enforcement, but specific scenarios are difficult to prepare for because the tactics of the bad guys are evolving very rapidly.
It is for this reason that we need officers who have critical-thinking skills, who can adapt to new situations and achieve the best result possible in a given scenario. This incident showcased another requirement: bravery and the commitment to service.
Consider what these officers knew as they chased this killer in the vehicle in front of them. The fugitive is a practiced, successful killer — not with guns as they so often train to confront, but with explosives. An explosive does not require the skill that marksmanship does; a skill almost always overmatched by the police officers that make up a SWAT team and for which the team members are well prepared. A bomb is different. Explosives do take some skill to use effectively, and the suspect in front of them demonstrated his ability to use them in a wide range of environments using multiple methods of delivery and detonation.
They knew this, yet they closed in on the suspect and pursued him anyway. While details of the final showdown are limited at the time of this writing, it appears likely that they boxed him in and perhaps even rammed his vehicle to bring him to a stop or to at least contain him once he did stop. Is this a good tactic for someone we know may have explosives in the car with him, and is skilled in using them? Certainly not from the strict standpoint of safety for the officers.
They did it anyway.
Herein lies the difference between what we expect of our police officers and what the average person might consider. Allowing the suspect to escape was not an option. If he were allowed to continue evading the police, he could travel into a more populated location — perhaps a supermarket parking lot, where others would be in harm’s way of a blast.
These police officers heroically determined that their own safety was secondary to any of those other options, and took actions for which there is no playbook. They dealt with a deadly situation using skill, strategic thinking, and copious amounts of courage. Their commitment to serve and protect is what we want in our police officers.
The guardian servant is the model for our nation’s law enforcement officers and is what we aim to achieve through very selective hiring and training. As I stated in a previous article on this topic, there is no shortage of such men and women, and they are currently serving all over this country. We saw that statement proven true by the officers involved in capturing this suspected murderer. If we are right to scrutinize officers for doing the wrong thing as we did in Parkland, we should cherish the opportunity to celebrate our officers who do the right thing as they did here.