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Shoot first: Police tactics now

world Updated: Apr 19, 2009 22:44 IST

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The first officers on the scene had never trained for what they found at Columbine High School: No hostages. No demands. Just killing.

In the hours that followed, Americans watched in horror as the standard police procedure for dealing with shooting rampages in the US proved tragically, heartbreakingly flawed on April 20, 1999.

Two officers exchanged fire with one of the teenage gunmen just outside the school door, then stopped — as they had been trained to do — to wait for a specially trained elite police team. During the 45 minutes it took for the elite team to assemble and go in, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot 10 of the 13 people they killed that day.

Ten years later, Columbine has transformed the way police in the US deal with shooting rampages.

After the tragedy, police across the country developed “active-shooter” training. It calls for responding officers to rush toward gunfire and step over bodies and bleeding victims, if necessary, to stop the gunman — the active shooter — first.

Sgt. A.J. DeAndrea, a patrol officer in the Denver suburb of Arvada, and now-retired sheriff's Sgt. Grant Whitus, two of the elite team members who searched Columbine High that day, now train police with the idea that a gunman, in a mass shooting, kills a person every 15 seconds.

During the 2007 massacre that left 33 people dead at Virginia Tech, three of the first five officers who entered the classroom building were patrol officers trained to deal with an active shooter.