No time for backup: Police increasingly told to confront active shooters

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By Jon Schuppe

Three minutes after the 911 call came in late Wednesday night, Sgt. Ron Helus of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office pulled up at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, California, where a former Marine had burst in and began shooting patrons.

Helus, a 29-year veteran on the overnight shift, met up with a pair of California Highway Patrol officers who had raced to the scene from a traffic stop, authorities said. They could hear gunshots. There was no time to wait for backup.

Helus and one of the officers went in the front door — exactly what American police officers are trained to do when they encounter “active shooters.”

The strategy, the result of changes in police tactics made after the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, puts the first officers to arrive at the scene in enormous peril. The fewer the officers, the less protection they have.

Students are escorted out of Columbine High School by police after a shooting on April 20, 1999.
Students are escorted out of Columbine High School by police after a shooting on April 20, 1999.Steven D Starr / Corbis via Getty Images

In this case, Helus paid with his life. Shot several times in a firefight with the gunman, Helus was pulled from the bar by the highway patrol officer he had gone in with and died hours later at a hospital, authorities said. Eleven others were killed inside the bar before the shooter killed himself, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office said.

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