Detroit cops offer training to prepare for active attacks
Detroit — Capt. Aric Tosqui was among the police officers who gathered in a west-side church to launch a program that teaches citizens how to deal with active attacks, when his cellphone lit up with an alert: A gunman had just opened fire during a wedding in a New Hampshire church.
"We were standing in a church right in the middle of telling people how an active attack can happen anywhere, at any time, and I get this notice," said Tosqui, head of department's Crime Intelligence Unit, who oversees the new DPD Shield program. "That really hammered the point home."
In that incident, two people in the church were wounded before guests tackled the shooter and pinned him to the ground until police arrived — an example of how to prevent an attacker from harming more people.
The Detroit program, which kicked off Oct. 12 in Mt. Charity Baptist Church, is a four-hour free seminar put on by police and medical workers who give lifesaving and first aid tips in case of an attack. Detroit police partner with a similar New York City initiative, NYPD Shield, which includes membership in the National Shield Network that shares intelligence, training and other resources.
"We don't say 'active shooter' anymore, because, as we've seen, people don't just use guns to attack large groups of people," Tosqui said. "They use cars, knives — just about anything. So we call them 'active attacks.'
"The main thing we want people to realize is that they need to have a victor mentality, not a victim mentality," Tosqui said. "There are things you can do to increase your chance of survival if you're prepared."
The seminars are split into two sections. The first, CRASE — Civilian Response to Active Attack Events — covers what to do in case of an active attack. The second part, "Stop the Bleed," is a partnership with the Detroit Medical Center and Detroit East Medical Control Authority, in which medical personnel give first aid tips. Tourniquets are passed out to participants after the presentation.
"When you go to the restaurant, do you look to see where the exits are?" Sgt. Terri Kennedy asked a small group of citizens who attended DPD Shield's second presentation Oct. 26 at the department's training center on Linwood.
"Do you look to see where the kitchen is, or other fire hazards? Most people don't," Kennedy said. "But those are the first things you should look for."
Kennedy played a video that showed several attacks and people's responses to them. One clip showed a woman drop to the floor and lie still while a shooter opened fire in a grocery store.
"Don't play dead," Kennedy said. "In a situation like that, you need to get out as quickly as possible and call 911. The one thing you don't want to do is stay and put what's happening on Facebook Live. It happens."
Kennedy said the mantra to remember when faced with an active attack is: Avoid, deny and defend.
"Avoid" means to leave the area immediately if possible, she said. If that's not possible, Kennedy said the next step is to deny the attacker access to a room or area. She showed a film clip of a woman who herded a group of small children into a bathroom and barricaded the door while a shooter stalked the halls of a school. Everyone in the room survived.
If fleeing or barring entry aren't possible, someone facing an active attack must defend themselves, Tosqui said.
"We used to teach 'run, hide and fight,' but we don't want people to hide," Tosqui said. "Hiding under a desk or playing dead doesn't help."
Tosqui said most people faced with an emergency have what's known as "normalcy bias," meaning they immediately think nothing out of the ordinary could be happening.
"If there's a gunshot, the average person will deny that it's a gunshot," he said. "They'll think it's fireworks, or a car backfiring."
During the seminar, a video is shown of the 2003 fire that broke out in the Station nightclub in West Warwick, Rhode Island, during a concert by the rock group Great White.
"The people didn't leave right away," Tosqui said. "They had normalcy bias. They thought 'this can't be a huge fire; it must be part of the show.'"
The video shows the crowd standing in front of the stage for several minutes before fleeing, forming a bottleneck around the main exit. When the smoke cleared, 100 people were dead.
Kennedy said that tragedy is an example why people should look for all the exits when they go into a venue.
"There were other exits people could have gone through, but they all tried to go out the same way they went in," she said.
Police tactics have changed since the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, in which two students killed 13 people and wounded more than 20 others before committing suicide, Kennedy said.
"The first responders stayed outside the school during the attack and waited for the S.W.A.T. team," she said. "They waited 45 minutes; that was the protocol. Columbine changed police policies, and now we're taught to go in as soon as possible to try to stop the threat."
Kennedy told the group: "In a chaotic situation, people are looking for a leader. Part of this training is to help you become a leader."
She said active shooters and other attackers over the years have been of all races, men and women. "There is no profile, although there are some behaviors that are consistent," she said. "A lot of them have an avenger mentality; they feel someone did them wrong, and they want revenge. They're usually quiet, not really social people."
Arkeyta Beale, 37, attended the Oct. 26 presentation. She said she has never been subject to an active attack but wants to prepare for the contingency, and relay tips to her co-workers and parents at a Detroit school she didn't identify.
"I hope to pass on the information I learned here — mainly, that it's important to always be aware," she said.
Tosqui agreed awareness, which includes preparation for an attack, is paramount.
"When it comes to active attacks, it's not a matter of if it will happen, but when," Tosqui said. "I hear people say 'it won't happen to me,' and that scares me because it means they're not prepared. I feel it's our responsibility as police offices to prepare people for when it does happen."
The next DPD Shield training is scheduled from 1-5 p.m. Nov. 16 at 4535 E. Seven Mile in Detroit. Call (313) 596-1879 or email DPDShield@Detroitmi.gov.