LEO Response: Fast and Slow Search

*the following is an excerpt from the book How to Survive an Active Killer

Fast Search vs. Slow Search:

There are essentially two phases of LEO response. The first task is to stop the killing. They do this with what is referred to as a fast search. All responding officers will be focused on one task. They’ll want to move quickly and aggressively, if possible, to achieve this task. Once the killing has stopped and the immediate danger has been mitigated, they will begin to look for any accomplices, check for secondary dangers such as explosives, collect evidence, get witness testimony, and leave no stone unturned. This is the slow search portion. Understanding each of these phases and the part you play in them is very important to not only keeping you safe, but also helping responding officers do their job efficiently.


The Fast Search:

To this point we’ve described a lot of what policies to expect for the fast search portion. The first ones on scene will have one mission and one mission only. Stop the killing. Remember, they can’t get hung up on every innocent person they find. They have to be focused on the task. We can help them achieve this task, which will help us stay safe.


Your Job During The Fast Search:

Show Your Hands – Drop any weapons or objects that can be mis- taken for weapons and show your hands. Show your hands open, fingers splayed, and palms facing out. Try to do so in a slow and smooth manner. If you whip around ninety degrees and chuck a random object, you’re asking for attention. We know this is a very hectic situation and you’re scared and will be easily startled, but do your best to act calmly and slowly so as to not garner any suspicion from the officers. Show your hands clearly with fingers spread. If you are holding an object, especially a weapon, calmly place it on the floor without making any fast or erratic movements.

Listen to all Commands – The officers are trying to assess a lot of different people in a very dynamic situation. When they enter your area, listen to every command they give. As mentioned, they’ll want to see your hands. They may tell everyone to lie face down. They may tell you to move to a certain place. Whatever it is, listen to them. Don’t ask questions or argue.

Don’t Bother Them – When you see officers it’s natural to feel a large amount of relief. Just remember, they’re there to do a job. If you have a piece of information that will help them find the bad guy, speak up. Otherwise, don’t bother them with secondary issues or disrupt their movement. Don’t obstruct their movement by trying to grab them and hold them for security. Again, I know it sounds harsh, but if the bad guy is still killing people, your wounds and feelings don’t matter.

Don’t Resist – You may be mistaken as a bad guy for myriad of reasons. Remember, the scene is very chaotic and they’re trying to make sure the threat has ended. If you do something suspicious, match a description, or are simply in the wrong place, you may
get handcuffed and questioned. Don’t resist and don’t argue. There are several occasions where an attacker has completely gotten away and a few where they changed clothes or actions to blend in with a crowd. Law enforcement officers are doing their jobs. If you want to be released quickly, cooperate and don’t resist. It’s a necessary inconvenience, but the more you resist, the more suspicious you look.


In November 2016, a student at The Ohio State University ran his car into a group of students, and then exited the car, stabbing at them with a knife. A responding officer put him down in one minute. The gunshots from the officer, mixed with the chaos of the scene, caused people in the vicinity to mistakenly think there was an active shooter. The accompanying police response came from multiple agencies, including local, county, state, and federal. The slow search for what reports said were “multiple shooters” encompassed several buildings that had to be cleared, in which two students were detained and questioned as threats. Multiple reports came in of suspicious bags in various places that had to be checked. Miscommunication from the university led to a lifting of the “shelter in place” call and hundreds of students flooding into the areas officers were searching. Witnesses were sent to a cramped room to wait for questioning. The search took more than two hours, and that’s not including how long it took to debrief all of the witnesses. All for a situation that involved one attacker with a knife and was over in sixty seconds.

The Slow Search:

Once the killing has stopped, it’s now up to the officers to make sure the scene is truly safe from any secondary threats, check that they got all involved parties, try to decipher what exactly happened, and collect as much evidence as possible. They will do this by corralling eyewitnesses for questioning, combing the entire scene for anything suspicious, and trying to preserve the state of the crime scene. This can take awhile. The larger the area and number of people involved, the longer it will take. Be prepared for this.

Your Job During Slow Search:

We know you want to get home, to see your family and hold them. However, the slow search is necessary. Cooperation always speeds things up. There are several things you can do to help move things along:

  • Stay calm – This situation is chaotic and stressful. Do your very best to stay calm. Erratic behavior solves zero problems. It won’t keep you safe during the event and it won’t speed up the process after
    the event. It literally does you no good to lose your cool. Focus on breathing. Focus on your family.
  • Listen to all commands – The quicker everyone cooperates, the faster LEO can move. Unless you have a medical emergency that supersedes their needs, listen to what they say.
  • Don’t resist – Same as above. If you’re mistaken for a bad guy, your main goal should be to not get shot. You do this by not resisting. Once they have detained you and asked the necessary questions you will be released, assuming you haven’t committed a crime. The more stubborn you are, the more suspicious you look. Don’t resist, don’t argue.
  • Gather your thoughts – While you’re waiting to be questioned, gather your thoughts. What did you see? What information actually matters and what information doesn’t? If you’re not certain about something, that’s ne. Breathe, relax, and walk yourself through what you witnessed.
  • Answer questions honestly – The officers aren’t looking for anything specific. They don’t expect you to know the make and model of the gun and how many shots were red. They just want honest information. They realize that interviewing witnesses right after an event comes with a margin of error. Don’t make up stories or say something because you think it’s what they want to hear. Don’t add your opinion into the matter. Simply give the facts as best as you can remember. If you aren’t certain of something, that is okay. Tell them. Just be honest. If you’re concerned that something you’re about to say may be used against you in any way, you have the right to not say anything, but don’t lie (more on this later).
  • Encourage and help others – One of the best ways to help keep yourself calm is to focus outward on others. Everyone is stressed out, everyone is concerned, and everyone wants to go home. Help to keep everyone calm. If someone is panicking, work with that person on breathing, talk to him, reassure him that everything is okay now. Be the light in a dismal place. Just by reading this book, you have a better outlook on how these matters will go. Talk to others about what’s going on, why officers are keeping you, and how it’s beneficial. Help them to understand.
  • Be sympathetic – The officers questioning you aren’t the ones that decided to murder people today. They don’t want to hold you there any longer than necessary. They have families at home that are worried about them just as much as your family is worried about you. They came to the scene voluntarily to help stop the threat and find out how to prevent further attacks. Be sympathetic to these facts and understand they want the best for you. They are not trying to make your life any harder than it already is. They are most likely following orders and feel bad about having to keep you where you are, but it’s necessary. Don’t berate or argue with them.

Law enforcement response has evolved and adapted over the years. It continues to all the time. It has come miles from where it used to be, but it is not perfect and never will be. The bad guy will always have the upper hand. Your safety sits in your own hands, no one else’s. Law enforcement is on the way, but they may not get there fast enough. When they do get there, do everything you can to make their jobs as easy as possible. It’s an emotionally traumatic experience, but do your best to help support them to resolve the issues. The more you understand the realities of their jobs and your job, the better you will be prepared to deal with these events and your interaction with responding officers will help achieve the common goal of stopping the threat and saving lives.

Be good, train hard, stay safe


One thought on “LEO Response: Fast and Slow Search

  1. Good sound advice. Most all their career, police are taught your best friend facing a firearm is generally cover and distance.

    Now they are leaving cover, closing in on the sound of gunshots. They most likely will have ballistic shields and their vision will be limited.

    Thanks Aaron!


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