The media should know better by now

Officer Garrett Swansey – killed in Colorado Springs, CO at the Planned Parenthood mass shooting November 2015

After so many active shooter incidents in the past 24 months one would think the media covering such stories would look for a different perspective on the shooting rather than exploit frightened observers and play the gun card over and over. Anyone who listened to the audio of the radio contact between dispatchers and officers at the Planned Parenthood shooting scene now knows why officers train for these kinds of events. It is so they can move to contact with practiced expertise and focused, tactical precision to eliminate the threat and save lives. As a former police sergeant, my chief, who also served as my range instructor, asked us whether or not we could answer this call?  Now, as a psychologist, I ask readers “could you do this job”? Having only practiced for this scenario the adrenaline evoked by the training is palpable and requires both physical and mental fitness. It is not for everyone. The real thing is a hundred time more intense. Only a few intrepid officers answer this call and risk it all for people they do not know. Does anyone think this training is not needed?

Events like this are no longer uncommon in spite of the plaintiff cry of U.S. President Barack Obama.  Officers must continue training in defense of these incidents and other terrorist threats.  America can’t sit back on the ongoing issue of gun violence: “This is not normal. We can not let this become normal.” according to a White House tweet vaguely attributed to President Obama. Threats made by domestic and foreign terrorists will continue for the foreseeable future and defense of these horrific events requires shared intelligence, ongoing training and updated equipment for the new normal. The American public should not fear or mistrust their police officers.

Violent threats toward soft targets across America require surveillance and manpower 24 hours a day. This happens in a climate of mistrust in law enforcement and dubiety in officer tactics. The gun in this case did not kill Officer Garrett Swansey and two others. It was allegedly committed by 57-year old Robert Dear, a drifter.  Dear has been arrested and his motive for the killings may eventually become known. More typically, active shooter incidents such as this result in the death of the shooter by suicide. Arguably, the motive for the terminal event remains a mystery when there is no opportunity to interview the perpetrator and understand motive. It is known that exposure to early childhood violence may yield red flag clues in cases of terminal rage (Sefton, 2013).

“We’re still pretty freaked out,”Denise Speller, manager at a nearby haircut salon, said by phone after the recent Planned Parenthood shooting in Colorado Springs. “We can’t stop shaking. For now we’re stuck back here not knowing.” This is the prototypic response of any bystander who is caught in the crossfire of an active shooter scenario – but they are hunkered down able to text message their families, speak with the media, or update their status on social media. Outside observers frequently express their fear at observing officer tactics and violent protocols needed to undermine those with murderous intentions.  Sadly, the first team of three officers had no chance to do this and one heroic officer lost his life as he and two other brave police officers raced to confront the shooter and took fire almost at once.  UCC Police Officer was struck and killed by an AK-47 high impact round as he moved toward the sound of gunfire.

The media covering these events love the kind of sensational demonstration of fear that compel us to watch the live news broadcast. They rarely go beyond the sensational images into the immediate here-and-now bravery demonstrated by courageous police officers who go beyond the blue line to protect the lives of innocents. “Red flag indicators are often demonstrated in behaviors that are observable and measurable sometimes for weeks and months before the terminal event” (Sefton, 2015). More needs to be done to provide heroic police officers the training, equipment, and support they need to bring these events to a nonviolent end.  If the media wish to offer something new why, not build a bridge between those who would protest police practices and those on the other side of the thin blue line.


Sefton, M. (2013). Domestic violence homicide. Blog post: Blog post taken 11-29-15.

Sefton, M. (2015). Unappreciated Rage: The dissembling impact of those living at the margins. Blog post: Taken 11-28-2015.