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Texas Police Chief On Active-Shooter Training And Protecting Civilians


Let's bring in another voice this morning. It is Terry Nichols. He is the police chief in the city of Brownwood, in central Texas. He's also one of the founders of ALERRT at Texas State University, which researches the best ways to deal with active-shooter situations and trains police officers and civilians.

Mr. Nichols, thanks for joining us this morning.

TERRY NICHOLS: You're welcome. I'm glad to be with you.

GREENE: You know, it's hard to imagine what the police in Dallas are going through today. The police chief there, David Brown, said the entire profession is hurting. He described what happened last night as an ambush-style shooting. Can you just take us into the minds of police officers who are on the streets there and when these shots started ringing out?

NICHOLS: You know, from what we can see is, it was a very peaceful protest and officers engaging with the protesters and out there providing them protection so they could exercise their First Amendment right to protest when they came under fire. You know, it's hard to imagine, you know, being under attack from an elevated position by snipers. But I think you saw some heroic actions by the officers in trying to protect civilians. At the same time, we had many officers obviously who were shot and also killed. So it's an unimaginable attack basically on the fabric of our society when people openly attack law enforcement like this simply because of uniforms.

GREENE: How are police even trained to deal with a sniper who sort of has the advantage of being up high, looking down at a scene and can just, you know, I mean, it seems like just - try to pick people off?

NICHOLS: It's an active-shooter situation, like we've been training for since Columbine, like ALERRT does across the country. And - except it's in an outdoor environment, and the tactics change. It's important for officers to have the skills, and I'm sure the Dallas Police Department - I know the Dallas Police Department are well-trained and the Dallas Area Rapid Transit police officers are well-trained. But it does require a different skill set, and it's not one you would often see in a downtown urban environment like Dallas, Texas. But it does require a different skill set and response tactics when someone has high ground on you.

GREENE: What is the response tactic? I mean, what can you do?

NICHOLS: You basically try to get under them and come up or come down from the top and get to them. But unfortunately, when someone has a high ground on you, they have 360 coverage around them and, you know, going across open ground is very dangerous and that's how, you know, some of the officers were shot, as well as two civilians. But eventually, you try to get up and get underneath them and get up to them and - so you can stop the threat or get equal - on equal plane with them so you can see the threat. It's just a very difficult situation, very much one like Austin experienced 50 years ago at the University of Texas tower shooting then.

GREENE: Chief Nichols, you mentioned what you described as these heroic acts by Dallas police officers even when they were under fire, rushing to try and protect civilians. Is that part of police training? I mean, even if they are clearly being targeted, I mean, they're trying to do their jobs.

NICHOLS: I think it's part of training, but I think it speaks more to the type of person that is drawn into law enforcement. They are there to help people. And they - we - it's ingrained in us and we come into this profession with that intent that I will step between innocent people and evil. The people that are trying to harm someone, our job is to step in between them and be that thin blue line. And I think you saw that last night. You know, they're trying to protect themselves as well, but they're also trying to protect people that are - that can't protect themselves. And so yes, we're trained to do that, to answer your question, but also I think it speaks to the type of person that's drawn into the law enforcement community as a whole.

GREENE: This has been such a difficult period where there has been so much discussion about trying to build trust between communities who are very angry about some of the incidents we've seen and black men dying, you know, encounters with police and the police trying to improve their relationship with communities. We saw that as this peaceful protest was beginning in Dallas, the police out there protecting these protesters. Now that this has happened and some - you know, a suspect is saying explicitly that he wanted to kill police, he told police that before he died, does this change things now for police officers in Dallas, around the country, as they go out on their shifts?

NICHOLS: Well, I think you'll see a heightened sense of awareness in every community across the country now that - you know, this reminds us again that people - there are a part of society, no matter their race or their background or ethnicity, anything, that will want to harm police officers simply because the uniform we wear and the job we do. Does it - will it set back, you know, our attempts at building better community relations? I certainly hope not, and I don't think any way or shape - it certainly won't here in Brownwood, Texas, I can promise you that. But I think officers have a little bit heightened sense of awareness. You won't see anybody going out riding. You'll see officers mourn, you'll see officers cry, and they will go out and start doing their job on the next shift they go to just like they did the day before, maybe with a little bit heightened sense of awareness that people are specifically targeting us.

GREENE: Chief Nichols, thanks so much for talking to us. We appreciate it.

NICHOLS: David, thank you, sir.

GREENE: That is Terry Nichols. He is the police chief in the city of Brownwood, Texas, and also one of the founders of ALERRT at Texas State University, which researches the best ways to deal with active-shooter situations. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.