Reducing variability in active shooter incidents: 4 ways to ensure effective response

Police departments can reduce active shooter incident response variability – here’s how


This image shows bodycam footage of officers responding to the active shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville, Tenn., on Monday, March 27, 2023.

Metropolitan Nashville Police Department via AP

Metropolitan Nashville Police Department officers are being hailed as heroes for their fast action to find and stop an active shooter inside a Nashville elementary school on March 27. The body-worn camera footage from MNPD Officers Rex Engelbert and Michael Collazo shows a swarm of officers entering the school, moving quickly and purposefully toward the gunfire.

According to the department, both officers fired on the shooter who was killed. These officers and their colleagues should receive the highest commendations and recognition for their heroism and lifesaving actions.

The bodycam videos of the Nashville school shooting should be required roll call viewing in every department as the response of the MNPD officers is in sharp contrast to other videos from recent active shooter incidents. In these MNPD BWC videos, officers are not milling around waiting for commands, or moving away from danger to establish a perimeter. No officers are fumbling with equipment or waiting for other resources. The first arriving officers, using only the weapons and protective equipment in their patrol cars, acquired intel and moved into the hot zone.

Reducing variability in response to active shooter incidents should be a top priority for every police department from the chief or sheriff to the patrol officers and deputies who are most likely to arrive first. Here are four ways to reduce variability to active shooter incidents and make sure as many innocents as possible escape unharmed.

1. Active shooter response training

Active shooter incident response training needs to be realistic and frequent. The MNPD officers showcased constant tactical movement in small teams that can only be learned and refined through hands-on training that happens inside a school. Vocal commands were clear and there was no unnecessary chit-chat or radio traffic. When the officers confronted the shooter they acted decisively, accomplishing the only tactical objective that mattered, to stop the killing.

Watching the videos, Engelbert, Collazo and other MNPD officers demonstrate they knew what they were going to do and how they were going to do it, likely visualizing their actions as they rolled up on the scene. This is a tribute to the training they received and the seriousness with which they completed that training.

2. Active shooter response equipment

Officer Engelbert exited his patrol vehicle and had a patrol rifle in his hands in about 10 seconds. In less than a minute he received information about the shooter and he was entering the building with other officers. Other items, such as ballistic shields, helmets and forced entry tools, if available, can be carried by members of the entry team, but when seconds mean the difference between life and death, officers only need their duty weapon or patrol rifle and body armor to enter the hot zone.

3. Active shooter response policy

Policy is the guidance police officers need on what to do and how to do it. The MNPD Active Deadly Aggression Incidents (MNPD policy 14.50) makes the department’s expectation of officers clear and succinct:

It is the policy of the MNPD, based on training and experience, to permit initial responding officers the authority and responsibility to take immediate action to contain and if necessary, neutralize active deadly aggression incidents to reduce or eliminate the likelihood of additional violence or threat to life.”

Several additional pages describe the department’s procedures related to the policy, including the three phases of training for active deadly aggressive incidents.

4. Department culture and leadership

Active shooter incident response is more likely to be effective if the department’s culture and leadership uphold the expectations of policy, deliver the necessary training, and equip officers with the tools they need to accomplish tactical objectives. Officers also need to believe they will be supported by department leaders when they act decisively, competently and confidently within the department’s policies and procedures.

Is your department active shooter response ready?

Every police department has completed active shooter response training in recent years, but are you really ready? After watching the MNPD response, how confident are you in your department’s training? Are you confident in your patrol rifle marksmanship and contact or tactical team movement? Does your department policy clearly articulate the mission of initial responding officers? Finally, if you are the chief or sheriff, have you created a culture that allows officers to respond decisively, competently and confidently without fear of second-guessing or reprisal to an active shooter incident?


Greg Friese, MS, NRP, is the Lexipol Editorial Director, leading the efforts of the editorial team on Police1, FireRescue1, Corrections1, EMS1 and Gov1. Greg has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree from the University of Idaho. He is an educator, author, paramedic and runner. Greg is a three-time Jesse H. Neal award winner, the most prestigious award in specialized journalism, and 2018 and 2020 Eddie Award winner for best Column/Blog. Ask questions or submit article ideas to Greg by emailing him at and connect with him on LinkedIn.