Const. John Davidson did not find cover or wait for backup or a tactical plan when a man began shooting at innocent people in Abbotsford on Monday.
In the past, he would have been trained to do all those things before engaging the shooter. But more recent police tactical training had Davidson draw his weapon and attempt to neutralize the shooter as fast as possible.
“The first person in, goes,” Abbotsford Police Chief Bob Rich explained at a Tuesday press conference. “John Davidson was the first person in, and away he went and he died protecting you and me.”
The change in protocol for a “homicide-in-progress type call” swept across North America soon after the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, according to Sgt. Mike Massine, a use-of-force co-ordinator with the Justice Institute of B.C.
“Using tactics of the day,” police in Colorado tried to contain the shooting by surrounding the building and attempting to establish contact with the assailants to then begin negotiations, Massine said.
A review of the incident later determined that strategy was flawed.
“We in the policing community in Canada and the United States realized that if you have that type of carnage going on, containing the location and trying to negotiate is not a feasible option because people are actively being injured and killed at the hands of the subjects,” he said.
Within months, Massine said his emergency response team at the Victoria Police Department was retrained for situations with an active shooter.
“It happened that quickly.”
He explained the change in protocol:
“If there’s a single officer that’s close and available to stop the carnage, it really becomes a judgment call at that point, whether or not they feel they’re close enough that they can actually engage with the subject and stop whatever carnage it is they’re doing … The main goal of the changes to our tactics, first and foremost, is to stop the threat. And by doing that, we’re preserving human life. Preserving innocent people that are caught up in the mayhem.”
Since then, the new tactics have seen success in saving lives, including here in Canada, Massine said.
Both the 2006 Dawson College shooting in Montreal and the 2014 Parliament Hill shooting in Ottawa were ended, in part thanks to police using the “first-in” tactics, Massine said.
Ultimately, Massine said, the newer tactics can save innocent civilian lives but they also put police officers in more danger.
“We have to realize that in order to save lives sometimes we have to put ourselves between the person trying to take lives and the people who that person is trying to harm and that’s part of our oath to protect the public and that’s our number one priority, is the preservation of life.”