Berkshire police: Mass shootings changed tactics

Sunday December 16, 2012

LEE -- The shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado more than a decade ago was a tragedy that became a moment of reflection nationwide for police departments, Lee Police Sgt. Jeffrey Roosa said on Saturday.

Before 13 people were killed by two gunmen in Littleton, Colo., in 1999, police were encouraged to hold back, talk to the assailant and await a tactical team, Roosa said.

Other mass shootings at Virginia Tech University, a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., and Friday at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., have become tragic examples that there isn’t always time to wait for backup help.

Roosa, one of several Berkshire County instructors who teach "solo tactics" countywide to officers, said police tactics have changed since Columbine. He said officers now have more independence to engage, rather than wait for backup. There is training and preparation to ready officers. Police have also learned that the gunmen in these situations are unlikely to engage in confrontation with police.

"A lot of time they will be dead before police get there," he said.

On Thursday, Roosa, who is a member of the Berkshire County Special Response Team, was one of many officers to be brought out after a 51-year-old Lee man shot his stepson.

Outside of Beartown Road in Lee, officers from the Lee Police and Massachusetts State Police, as well as officers from Lenox, Stockbridge and Pittsfield, had surrounded the residence.

Phap Nguyen had a 9mm pistol and had shot his stepson once in each leg and once in the abdomen.

Roosa engaged the gunman with officers from Lenox, Stockbridge, Pittsfield and state troopers.

"It all falls back to your comfort level," Roosa said.

Police would take Nguyen into custody and he is being evaluated in a psychiatric hospital.

Roosa expressed confidence that agencies are as prepared as they can be. Schools are required to have policies in place requiring plans for a natural disaster, fires and other emergency scenarios, but on Friday a Pittsfield district official said that the Newtown shooting would lead to a new review.

Police will also examine what happened to improve public safety plans, Roosa said, but he also said a "determined mentally ill person is tough, tough, tough to stop."


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