The drills reinforce the now-standard protocol of engaging the shooter directly instead of waiting for specialized SWAT teams, even if the officer's weapon is less powerful than the gunman's and even if studies show a solo officer will himself be shot one-third of the time, said Chris Combs, who runs the FBI's Strategic Information and Operations Center, the headquarters command post for major emergencies.
Many of the shootings end before police arrive or stop once the gunman hears an officer approaching.
"You don't need negotiators, you don't have time for SWAT teams, you need to get in there as fast as possible and stop the killing," Combs, also involved in organizing the partnership, said in an interview. The willingness to go in alone is a "horrible personal decision," but must be weighed against the potential carnage inside a building, he added.
That's a reversal from past training that focused on containing the scene, controlling the perimeter and calling for SWAT help. That strategy, though widely accepted at the time, was criticized as too slow and painstaking after the Columbine shootings.
"Now because of those lessons learned, because of the willingness to be introspective of what took place, tactics have evolved, and they're continuing to evolve," said Arvada, Colo., police Sgt. A.J. DeAndrea, who was among the first responders at the Columbine shootings.
Under the new initiative, the FBI is making available its behavioral analysts to consult with local police agencies concerned that someone in their community might be planning a shooting.
The 56 field offices are running table-top exercises and conferences to augment the tactical drills.
The conferences cover the added challenges posed by mass killings, such as collecting enormous amounts of evidence, interviewing hundreds of witnesses and sifting for explosive devices, said Stephen Vogt, who runs the Baltimore office. Interacting with the national news media also is discussed.