NEW BEDFORD — Last week, New Bedford police officers responded to St. Luke’s Hospital under lockdown after someone made an active shooter threat over the phone, according to a Southcoast Health official.
Out of an abundance of caution, both a bomb threat and an active shooter alert were sent to hospital staff, but New Bedford police concluded there was no credible threat. The lockdown lasted about one hour, with the threat not turning into action.
Amid a regular occurrence of mass shootings in recent years, law enforcement departments have engaged in conversations about training and how to best stop the shooter and minimize harm to the public. Guiding officers at the local and federal level are both training and written policies. But at the New Bedford Police Department, there is no policy for an active shooter situation.
NBPD about a month ago issued a brief, quick reference guide from the firearms division for its officers to keep in their cruisers, said Lt. Scott Carola, public information officer. However, there is no active shooter policy in the same way there are policies in the department on taser use, harassment and computer use.
After Carola previously said the city should be able to provide a copy of the guide earlier this week, city spokesperson Mike Lawrence said the city would not be able to provide a copy in time for publication, citing other requests and responses it had to attend to.
Police Chief Paul Oliveira said the guide reminds officers of tactics to use that they’ve trained on, and that the department next week will start ASHER training, which means “active shooter/hostile event response.”
Asked if NBPD would adopt an active shooter policy, Oliveira said a company is currently updating the department’s policies.
“If that’s the industry standard, and this company who’s certifying us in our policies recommends that we get a policy, we’ll obviously put one in place,” he said. “To me, active shooter is more about the training than the policy. It’s more important to have your officers trained in how to respond to it, because it’s not something that happens, as we know, every day.”
“So if we have a need to put in an active shooter policy, if there’s a standard policy out there that we think would be helpful to the department, by all means, I’ll create a policy,” he said. “But like I said, we’ve hired this company to go through our policies now. I don’t know if it’s on the list of policies that they plan on adding.”
Oliveira said all active shooter situations are different, so as much training as possible is important: “police, fire and EMS, we realized how all three of those agencies, their response is crucial. We’ve seen that most recently in Uvalde.”
Responding officers play a critical and life-changing role through both their action and inaction, as was manifest in the tragic Uvalde elementary school shooting, during which two teachers and 19 children were killed by a single gunman. More than an hour passed before armed and shielded officers waiting onsite entered the classroom and killed the gunman.
County commissioners in Uvalde found the responding sheriff’s office lacked an active shooter policy, NBC News reported. Since the shooting, responding agencies have been under investigation for their responses to the shooting, with one investigation finding “systemic failures,” the Texas Tribune reported.
Katherine Schweit, a consultant and former head of the FBI active shooter program, told The Light that law enforcement agencies have to have a written policy so that they know what to train.
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“It’s great that there’s training. But the purpose behind training is to ensure that you’re following the policies consistently,” she said. “You have to have a written policy that explains what the officers are allowed to do and what then they should be trained to do.”
A policy, she explained, could state what equipment officers will be required to carry when responding to an active shooter, such as a ballistic shield and bulletproof helmet; how often the officers need to be trained; and how the officers get to a shooter and neutralize them.
“It allows everybody to understand what the expectations are for a department’s ability to respond to an emergency,” Schweit said, adding there is “no question” written policies for an active shooter are as essential as written policies on first aid or automated external defibrillator use.
Oliveira said there’s “nothing set” in guidelines of how often the officers need to train by the Municipal Police Training Committee, but that “in time you may see that happen.”
Mark Leahy, executive director of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, said he thinks active shooter policies would be very common today.
“I think that any time there’s been a tragedy anywhere in the country, it tends to be a catalyst for people to start thinking,” Leahy said. “Anecdotally, there’s been a lot more conversation about training opportunities in particular just to make certain that people are as prepared as they can be.”
An active shooter policy, he said, gives officers something to think about in terms of their safety and the safety of the community, and how they would handle the situation.
Leahy said he is not aware of any state or federal requirement for departments to have active shooter policies. Asked if he thinks departments should have such a policy in place, he said “absolutely.”
Some police departments’ active shooter policies communicated their purpose was to “reduce the inherent confusion that can occur when multiple agencies respond to a quickly changing, extremely violent event,” according to a 2014 report by the Police Executive Research Forum, a D.C.-based policy institute.
The report in its summary of policies also states they can include coordination of radio communication and channels, contact and rescue team tactics and equipment.
The Light contacted local departments, the Boston Police Department and Massachusetts State Police to inquire about active shooter policies.
Deputy Chief James Storey of the Dartmouth Police Department said the department has an active shooter policy.
Titled “Rapid Response and Deployment,” the three-page document covers schools, workplaces and other locations that the department pre-determines could be a target for mass casualties, he said.
The latest version was updated in November of 2020. It details the discretion of police responding to the incident and mentions training. Active shooter is not explicitly mentioned, but Storey said the policy captures active shooters as those “actively engaged in infliction” of serious harm or life-threatening activity.
Lt. Eric Nichols of the Taunton Police Department said the department does not have a standalone active shooter policy, but that several existing policies address it, such as officer response, incident command and use of force.
He also noted the department uses the rescue task force model, and participates in active shooter training “quite a bit” every year along with the fire department so that they can better coordinate medical care.
The Fall River Police Department does not have a written policy on active shooter response, according to Fall River Sgt. Moses Pereira.
Trooper Brandon Doherty of Massachusetts State Police said the agency does not have a “dedicated written policy regarding active shooter situations” as part of policy and procedure catalog, but that troopers abide by an article and general order on duties of members and response to emergency situations.
The Boston Police Department said it has a written policy as a four-page addendum in its Critical Incident Management rule, which it provided to The Light. Named “Active Shooter Incident Rapid Deployment Protocol,” it details the protocol’s purpose, defines terms and lists the duties for officers and teams.
For example, it states that a rescue team, when deployed, must have four officers at minimum, with the team leader being responsible for formulating and implementing a plan, and making deployment decisions.
Lt. Kevin Kobza of the Fairhaven Police Department said by email that the department’s active shooter policy is part of an “All Hazards Plan,” and is a set of guidelines but cannot cover every possible scenario.
“Our policy and practical exercise training goes hand in hand and both feed off the other,” he said.
The department also trains twice a year with simunitions, which convert the firearms to fire paintball-like projectiles, and reviews active shooter scenarios.
Schweit said training can be intimidating, but it gives officers the confidence to know how to approach a building, enter it, listen for a shooter, move down a hallway, ignore people asking for medical assistance and be aware of potential co-conspirators.
She noted training is sometimes not taken seriously and doesn’t always get enough financial support, but that it is a critical piece of the policies-procedures-training triad.
“Anything that a community can do to support their law enforcement getting the proper training is going to potentially save lives,” she said.
NBPD officers are set to start ASHER training in the coming weeks, led by the police chief of the Chelsea Police Department. Oliveira said the Department of Justice is encouraging this type of training, and that NBPD will be one of the earlier departments in the state to have its officers certified.
He said some fire personnel will join the training as the focus is expanded to not only stop the shooter, but also respond to victims. For example, there may be a “warm zone” where there are victims and the shooter is gone, which could be an area law enforcement could make entry and help get first aid to the victims. The department will plan exercises next year to include EMS.
“What this training does, it teaches ways of working with fire and EMS and getting that type of medical help into the situation sooner with the assistance of the police,” Oliveira said. In a lot of police training over the years, “it was the police’s job to focus on the shooter and disarm, engage the shooter. This is kind of just a broader scope.”
Email Anastasia E. Lennon at email@example.com.