A few years ago, our police command staff watched video footage of Al-Qaeda members beheading an American civilian in Iraq as part of a unique but controversial training program designed to help mentally prepare police for combating terrorism stateside. This particular incident is clear in my mind, as the brutal video offended some officers, even those who were used to viewing crime scene photographs. As a SWAT tactical commander, it seems prudent to illustrate the stark difference between the threats we normally encounter and a truly motivated threat. This particular incident was terrible, but we can use it illustrate a couple of points and prepare ourselves.
The first point is how hard such terrorism-driven violence is for most police professionals to wrap their heads around. As an example, one officer in particular had his sensibilities shaken after witnessing the video, and he has seen carnage from 20 years as a police officer and another 10 years working in the military. It really underscores how mentally unprepared many police administrations and their staffs are to deal with someone who is willing to commit such brutality, and help prepare them to have the proper mindset to combat acts of international-style terrorism here in the United States.
The truth: It is generally very difficult to “shock” most hardened police officers, especially those who have worked in an environment where the worst of humanity is often encountered. These types of threats really involve a level of violence not seen in mainstream American law enforcement. Secondly, given how different these threats are, we must understand that the standard mindset and tactics simply do not apply. Handling them in the same manner as our typical callout will only get more people killed. The term at the time was “motivated threat,” and it still fits. This is not a mentally distraught individual looking for attention, or a mentally unstable person out of control. This is not even the disgruntled employee that has decided to go ballistic and start killing coworkers. This is a person who means to kill as many people as they can and die trying. More importantly, their intentions are deliberate and their training specific.