When two teens entered Columbine High School in April 1999 loaded with high-powered weaponry and a seemingly endless amount of ammunition, it was …
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When two teens entered Columbine High School in April 1999
loaded with high-powered weaponry and a seemingly endless amount of
ammunition, it was clear that local police were not adequately
prepared for what they were about to face.
In the aftermath, law enforcement agencies were heavily
criticized and sometimes vilified by the public for what was
perceived as a botched plan of action. But, in reality, the
officers who responded did everything they were trained to do. They
followed standard procedure in dealing with an active shooter,
including engaging one of the gunmen outside the school after being
In the decade that has passed since the tragedy, the face of
school security has been so drastically altered that former
procedures are virtually unrecognizable.
Permanent changes have reshaped communications systems,
coordination plans, strategy and even police firepower, said Jacki
Kelley, a public information officer for the Jefferson County
Sheriff’s Office since January 1999.
It wasn’t until later in the day that Colorado residents
realized the magnitude of the massacre. In all, 13 people,
including one heroic teacher and coach, were killed in one of the
deadliest rampages on a school campus in American history.
The two assailants, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, took their
own lives roughly an hour after the attack was launched.
It was only in hindsight that the public realized that the
response by local police was not as coordinated as it should have
First responding patrol officers had been trained to secure the
perimeter of the scene and wait for SWAT to arrive before taking
action, unless they or bystanders were faced with an imminent
threat, as was the case with Columbine.
In fact, practically every agency in the country used the exact
Reports from inside the school initially indicated that there
might be between six and eight shooters, something police took into
account when devising a plan.
Since April 20, 1999, law enforcement departments have spent
countless hours and millions of dollars beefing up their protocols
— and arsenals — for handling a situation in which a suspect is
actively taking innocent lives, Kelley said.
“When it was over we said, ‘we will learn from Columbine. We
will do it better,’” she said. “That’s the best way we can honor
those lives that were lost that day.”
Many now are using RAID — or Rapid and Immediate Deployment — to
reduce casualties and neutralize the threat immediately.
Essentially, if a shooter is walking around a school, mall or
business firing at people, the first officers on scene are
instructed to find, contain and, if necessary, kill the suspect,
“The simple act of responding and engaging typically stops the
killing,” she said. “We are taking the focus away from those
innocents to those that are more capable of engaging in a
Sgt. Jeff Egnor, supervisor of the school resource officer
division of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, said oftentimes,
those shooters are “not there to negotiate, they are there to kill
For the last 10 years, the sheriff’s office has teamed up with
the Douglas County School District to address student safety in a
more serious manner.
An armed school resource officer was placed in every high
school. Surveillance cameras have been mounted throughout the
interior and exterior of the buildings.
Students now have several avenues to anonymously report a
threat, such as the new Text-a-Tip program that enables them to
send a text message to police to report anything from drug deals to
fights to a threat by a student.
The improved lines of communication, coupled with a heightened
awareness and increased sense of responsibility among students,
have actually stopped at least one potentially serious incident
from happening at a Douglas County school, Egnor said, who declined
to divulge further details.
Criminal penalties have been stiffened and more sophisticated
weaponry has been introduced to routine patrol officers.
They now carry AR-15’s and other high caliber rifles in their
vehicles to outgun any potential gunmen.
A high-profile bank robbery in North Hollywood in February 1997
also helped mandate the additional weapons and training that was so
badly needed, Egnor said.
Because there were more than 900 officers from 34 departments at
the Columbine scene, communication was nearly impossible.
Nearly every agency in Colorado, including the Douglas County
Sheriff’s Office, is now on a statewide radio system.
The events that unfolded at Columbine that day have been
analyzed and scrutinized.
Leadership within the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office has
changed hands, but the majority of the officers who responded to
the high school are still on the force.
“Our scars run pretty deep,” said Kelley, who was at the scene
handling the incredible influx of local, national and international
media. “We have a moral obligation to help others learn from
Columbine and we have traveled the country and talked about what
went well and what didn’t go well. That’s part of the burden we
have to carry.”
“When it was over we said, ‘We will learn from Columbine. We
will do it better.’ That’s the best way we can honor those lives
that were lost that day.”
Jackie Kelley, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office
Schedule of events
Candlelight vigil at the Memorial in Clement Park, 7:30 p.m.;
donations will be accepted on-site for ongoing maintenance
Columbine Rededication on the west steps of Colorado State
Capitol, 11 a.m.; will include a moment of silence, the reading of
the names of the victims, and a lie-down, featuring 13 people lying
down in a circle during the moment of silence, surrounded by 23
representing those injured.
A time to remember and reflect at the Clement Park Amphitheater,
Columbine Community Day at Columbine High School, all day;
developed so Columbine High School could give back to the community
some of the love and support received after April 20, 1999.
Proceeds will go to Craig Hospital.
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