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About a year ago, I revealed that the Washington Post’s “Criminal Justice” columnist is a charlatan who has failed to do the most basic research. In that PJ Media column, I showed that cop critic Radley Balko openly admits to have never actually observed police work, despite having written a 400-page book on the problems with SWAT teams as observes them … but, uhm, yeah … he never actually observed one to write the book. See the problem? He doesn’t. He dismisses the question as “irrelevant.”
Notably, the Washington Post doesn’t see the problem either. They rejected the PJ Media column that would have informed their readers of their own columnist’s hollow credentials. One wonders what else they might be hiding.
Alas, Balko’s latest book tour is just as much a tour of deceit as the last, and this time it has shamefully stained the pages of no less a conservative stalwart publication than the Weekly Standard.
Worse, Balko used the Standard as a forum to smear true heroes who selflessly risked their lives in the face of the worst school killers in modern American history.
In a slavishly unchallenging Q&A with the Standard’s Adam Rubenstein, Balko incomprehensibly attacks the police officers who responded to the Virginia Tech massacre and the Columbine attack. In fact, he compares them to the apparently cowardly Broward County Sheriff’s deputies who stood by as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting unfolded.
Let’s look at Balko’s exact words to get the full context.
What happened in Parkland isn’t all that different than what’s happened in some other mass shootings. At both Columbine and Virginia Tech, SWAT teams showed up as the shooting was still happening, but deemed it too dangerous to go inside. In other mass shootings, police intervention did save lives.
In fact, with regard to Virginia Tech, nothing could be further from the truth. But don’t believe me, let’s look at the official report on the horrific events of April 16, 2007, Commissioned by the then-Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Tim Kaine. The report found, in its summary findings: “The police response at Norris Hall was prompt and effective, as was triage and evacuation of the wounded. Evacuation of others in the building could have been implemented with more care.”
But, really, Balko’s smear is truly disgusting if one has even a passing familiarity with the facts. Starting on page 94, the report details exactly what the responding officers did, by name. Because the killer (whose name I will not republish) had committed a murder earlier that morning elsewhere on campus, officers were already in the vicinity in strength. The report found they arrived within three minutes of the call being received by Virginia Tech dispatch. The report states (emphasis mine):
The five officers immediately proceeded to implement their training for dealing with an active shooter. The policy is to go to the gunfire as fast as possible, not in a careless headlong rush, but in a speedy but careful advance. The first arriving officers had to pause several seconds after exiting their cars to see where the gunfire was coming from, especially whether it was being directed toward them. They quickly figured out that the firing was inside the building, not coming from the windows to the outside. Because [the killer] was using two different caliber weapons whose sounds are different, the assumption had to be made that there was more than one shooter.
The officers tried the nearest entrance to Norris Hall, found it chained [by the killer], quickly proceeded to a second and then a third entrance, both also chained. Attempts to shoot off the padlocks or chains failed. They then moved rapidly to a fourth entrance—a maintenance shop door that was locked but not chained. They shot open the conventional key lock with a shotgun. Five police officers entered and rapidly moved up the stairs toward the gunfire, not knowing who or how many gunmen were shooting.
The shooting lasted a total of 11 minutes. The first call wasn’t received until two minutes later. Officers were on-scene after five minutes. They tried three doors before shooting the lock off a fourth, then proceeded upstairs, believing they were facing two killers.
It would be most interesting to learn what the Washington Post’s resident expert on criminal justice thinks could have been done better.
Similarly, Balko’s smear of the officers who responded to the Columbine massacre is equally deceptive, if marginally more accurate.
According to page 38 of the official report to the Governor of Colorado on that tragedy, “six officers from the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department arrived within minutes. Three (Gardner, Smoker and Walker) saw one or the other of the two perpetrators and exchanged gunfire with him.”
The names of the men who did exactly the opposite of what Balko claims are right there in black and white. According to the report, the officers immediately went about securing the campus before forming a team to go in and rescue the injured. That took about 45 minutes and prompted the assailants to kill themselves. Tragically, in 1998, it was exactly what they were supposed to do.
The Columbine massacre was effectively the first such school shooting in modern American history, and one of the first of any kind ever. The protocol of the day, when confronting an armed suspect with hostages, was to secure inner and outer perimeters before attempting to contact the suspect and, hopefully, negotiating a peaceful resolution. At the time, the idea that a gunman would barge into a school and start murderously rampaging through the student body was unthinkable and unheard of.
An article in Balko’s own Washington Post marking the 10-year anniversary of the Columbine tragedy goes into great detail:
The first officers on the scene at Columbine High School had never trained for what they found: No hostages. No demands. Just killing.
In the ensuing hours, the nation watched as the standard police procedure for dealing with rampages proved flawed on April 20, 1999.
Two officers exchanged fire with one of the teenage gunmen just outside the school door, then stopped — as they had been trained to do — to wait for a SWAT team. During the 45 minutes it took for the team to assemble and go in, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot 10 of the 13 people they killed that day.
The killers committed suicide when the makeshift SWAT team entered.
The article continues:
Ten years later, Columbine has transformed the way the nation’s police deal with shooting rampages.
After the tragedy, police across the country developed “active-shooter” training. It calls for responding officers to rush toward gunfire and step over bodies and bleeding victims, if necessary, to stop the gunman — the active shooter — first.
Columbine changed policing as much as it changed schooling.
In American policing, confronting active shooters is divided into two eras: before Columbine, and after Columbine. Before the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, police strategy was to wait for the SWAT team to arrive and then attack en masse with precise force. But after the two shooters in Columbine roamed the school for nearly 50 minutes, killing 13 and wounding 21, the police approach changed: Enter now. Whoever is there with a gun, whether a school resource officer or the first patrol officer to arrive, should go after the shooter.
Who says this? Why no less a source than, again, Balko’s own Washington Post.
So, the fact of the matter is neither the officers at Columbine or Virginia Tech hesitated at all. They didn’t “deem it too dangerous” to enter. The officers at Columbine engaged the killers in a gunfight, then followed the protocol of the day. The Virginia Tech first responders followed the lessons of Columbine by deliberately and aggressively pursuing the killer.
But, apparently, it’s unreasonable for the author of a 400-page book on SWAT to know that the protocol for the most traumatic events a SWAT team deals with changed dramatically after a seminal moment in American law enforcement history.
Nor does the Post’s “Criminal Justice columnist” actually know his own publication’s factual reporting on the subject.
What Balko does know is how to ignorantly smear valiant men and women who made the best out of horrific situations that their training and equipment allowed. His disregard for the truth sullies their names for wrongs they did not commit. They deserve better, and so do the readers of the Weekly Standard.
Ironically, Radley Balko’s latest book is about experts whose negligent disregard for the truth led to the convictions of innocent men. At least he’s finally writing about a subject with which he has first-hand experience.