What if there’s an active shooter in Lawrence? Police captain gives advice

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World File Photo

In this file photo from Oct. 1, 2017, Lawrence police investigate the scene of a shooting on Massachusetts Street between 10th and 11th streets that left three people dead and injured others.

As Lawrence finally moves past some of its deadliest chapters — long-running court cases, involving among them six men, four victims shot and killed and several other victims injured — similar scenarios unfold in other towns, with new mass shootings occurring nearly every day.

Arguments about the root causes, reasons for perpetuation and potential solutions to gun violence are endless. But one thing that is within an individual’s control is his or her own level of preparedness.

Lawrence Police Capt. Troy Squire has been with the department for about 23 years. And for that time, he said the department has done an excellent job of training officers to respond to active shooter situations.

photo by: Patrick Compton/Contributed Photo

Lawrence Police Capt. Troy Squire

But Squire said he realized a few years ago that one thing the department wasn’t doing well was pushing civilian education. So in 2016, the department did implement free active shooter training sessions for civilians.

Demand for the sessions ebbs and flows with death counts in national news.

“The more incidents happen across the country, the more phone calls we get for these,” Squire said when asked how many sessions he and his department provide each year. “But I would venture to say somewhere between a dozen to 20 a year, depending on how many active shooter events happen across the country.”

Avoid, deny, defend

What should you do if you find yourself in an active shooter situation? Should the setting alter your response, whether you’re in a confined and crowded space such as a bar, outside in an open street, wandering a retail store or sitting in rows at an event venue?

Squire said the department taught a “cookie cutter” response, and it’s not so dependent on the area where an incident occurs; what matters more is your location in proximity to the shooter.

The department teaches the “Avoid Deny Defend” response as a practice, Squire said.

Request training

Capt. Troy Squire, of the Lawrence Police Department, says that civilian groups who would like to arrange active shooter training sessions can contact him via email at squire@lkpd.org.

First and foremost, Squire said, people should avoid the shooter so they can get away. If they can’t get away, they should “deny” the shooter access — barricading a room, for instance.

If that’s not possible, he said, the time comes to defend. He said they didn’t teach tactics as much as they did the concept of having to defend yourself.

“You don’t know where you’re going to be in relation to that shooter when the actual event happens, and you may be close enough that you need to have the conversation with yourself: ‘I might have to defend my life,'” Squire said.

Those three steps as a practice can apply anywhere. And the order is important — Squire said civilians should not try to take down the shooter unless it was their last option to defend their lives.

“I think whether you’re at a church or a bar, or walking down the street, we have to educate ourselves on what our options are and what has worked across the country over the last 20 years, and then implement the correct step based on where we are at in that active shooter event,” Squire said.

There have been cases in which an armed civilian has taken out a shooter or attempted to do so. That could potentially add to the danger because officers arriving on scene might not know which armed person is which.

In an incident on Nov. 22, 2018, in a mall in Hoover, Ala., a police officer mistakenly shot and killed Emantic “EJ” Bradford Jr., 21, thinking that he was the suspect in a reported shooting. The Associated Press reported that Bradford was holding a gun when police arrived, but he was a “good guy with a gun” who was trying to help, according to an attorney for the family.

In that regard, Squire said he “tries to stay away from Second Amendment issues.” However, “What I do tell people is that if they are bringing a gun into that situation, they need to be very aware of all of their surroundings to include the police coming through that area looking for an armed subject.

“And if someone is going to be armed, and is going to engage the shooter as a last-ditch effort, that they need to have a plan not only for defending their lives but for not being caught up in an incident with law enforcement,” Squire continued. “We would prefer people not be armed and not go hunting down the shooter themselves but utilize their firearm to defend their life.”

What if?

In the Aug. 4 shooting that left nine dead and 27 injured at a bar in Dayton, Ohio, The Associated Press reported that officers took out the shooter within 30 seconds of the start of his rampage.

That shooting started around 1 a.m. on a Sunday in a popular entertainment district of the city. Without context, it doesn’t sound too different from when gunfire erupted around 1:40 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017, at the intersection of 11th and Massachusetts streets — around bar closing time, when the streets are flooded with revelers.

But the downtown Lawrence shooting was sparked by a feud between two groups of Topeka men who didn’t get along, the Journal-World has reported. Three men have been sentenced in connection with the incident that left three people dead and injured others.

The last man, Anthony L. Roberts Jr., was sentenced Aug. 1 to a minimum of 68 years in prison before he’s eligible for parole. The judge told him that people who weren’t even downtown that night didn’t feel safe there anymore. “That’s a terrible thing to have happened to this town,” the judge said.

In another incident, one man was killed when shots broke out in a Lawrence Motel 6 room on Sept. 2, 2017. Another three men have been tried, convicted and sentenced in that case, with the last sentence coming on Wednesday.

The Massachusetts Street shooting — though one of the victims was not an intended target — was not a randomized attack with the sole goal of taking innocent lives. But what if that did happen here?

Squire said the department didn’t speak much about how officers patrol any given area with specifics because “we don’t like to share how we deploy our resources.”

However, “Downtown is one of many areas in the town that is heavily populated during certain times of the day, and downtown on the weekend in particular is very busy with the bar crowd,” Squire said, “so it is not uncommon to have additional resources in the downtown area.”

He also said LPD had a proactive way of dealing with the busy parts of town.

“We like to be in and around the areas where problems could be, where large crowds are at, and believe our presence is a deterrent in a lot of issues that can happen, whether it’s downtown or anywhere else in town,” he said.

Reflecting on that Massachusetts Street shooting and how attitudes have or haven’t changed since, Squire said there was a lot of outcry at first; he’s not sure anything long-term has changed, but he’d like to think people are more aware of their surroundings. From a police officer’s perspective, he said, it’s still very much on his mind.

“We’re very aware that when bullets start flying in a crowd like that, it creates a significant problem, not only for the citizens but for us,” Squire said. “And we are very vigilant that these things can happen again, and we do our best to prevent that through proactive policing downtown.”

Squire said he always wanted to drive home the point that mental health was a very important part of the active shooter conversation. He said he thought that our system and our society needed a lot more mental health help.

“It’s not unreasonable to talk about the firearm or the weapon that was used, but I think it is equally important to discuss what we have available to us as a society for mental health help,” Squire said. “… Everything should be discussed, everything should be on the table, but I think that is something that needs to be brought to the forefront, because even if it’s not with active shooters, there’s a huge mental health crisis in this community, and I think it’s part of the problem.”

Contact Mackenzie Clark

Have a story idea, news or information to share? Contact public safety reporter Mackenzie Clark:

Related coverage

Oct. 6, 2017: ‘This violence could happen anywhere’: A peek inside active shooter training with Lawrence police


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