Police protocol and training may need to be updated after recent terrorists attacks, according to a new paper by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.
The law enforcement foundation reviewed how police responded to the Orlando, Fla., nightclub attack in June 2016, where a gunman carried out the deadliest terrorist attack in the U.S. since 9/11, fatally shooting 49 people, and the terrorist attacks at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, Calif., that killed 14 people.
Hostage situations and terrorist attacks are usually handled by SWAT team members, the paper says, but patrol officers are usually the first on the scene.
“Recent incidents have demonstrated that the actions taken by patrol and other non-tactical unit officers greatly impacts the outcome of the event,” the authors wrote. “Routine patrol work places officers in neighborhoods where terrorists hide, plan and attack, giving them the opportunity to gather critical intelligence as well as to identify potential threats.”
And local police training agencies like the Southern Illinois Law Enforcement Commission, agree. They recently created courses designed to teach local officers how to handle terrorism threats on a local level.
“When these incidents occur, everybody has to be trained the same way in response to them,” said David Hayes, director of SILEC. “Even if they’re from a local small agency, they may not be as susceptible or as high a target, but they may be used as manpower in larger areas where manpower needed.”
SILEC’s courses teach first responders, civilian partners and telecommunicators about what to do in case of a terrorist attack. A recent class focused on Islamist terrorism and the impact of global terror threats on U.S. law enforcement.
Police training needs to match the emerging trends seen from terrorist groups, Hayes said. That’s where intelligence centers can come in — they can figure out what tactics may be used.
“I don’t know if we can ever fully prepare for a terrorist incident, “ Hayes said. “If they’re bound and determined to give up their own life to take others, it’ll be hard to prevent.”
Even so, the authors of the West Point paper say that because the Islamic State is calling for attacks all across the nation, police need to be prepared for improvised explosive devices, suicide bombers and hostage situations.
Hayes said the metro-east has some of the best trained and most readily available law enforcement personnel around. More than 100 officers, most of whom are from St. Clair County departments, have gone through the terrorism classes.
Fairview Heights Police Department has trained for any type of emergency, from terrorist bombings to natural disasters, said spokesperson Tim Mueller. Officers have not done the SILEC terrorist response course, but they have gone through training that aims to teach incident command for anything, no matter the circumstance.
St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department constantly trains officers and has protocols in place for terrorist attacks, said spokesperson Schron Jackson. Officers have had multiple special weapons and tactics, and hostage response trainings, according to department documents.
The same plans can work in many situations, Hayes said, from casualty incidents to disasters or terrorist attacks. Regardless, police approaches need to have a strong incident command system that’s well rehearsed and well trained far in advance.
“Terrorist attacks and other instances of mass public violence ... demonstrate that no community is immune from the threat and that local law enforcement, in particular, must develop strategies that, in the words of former (Department of Homeland Security) Secretary Jeh Johnson, ‘anticipate the next attack — not the last one,’” according to the paper.