Report Hails Va. Tech Police Response

Private Study Analyzes Responders' Reaction to Offer Lessons

Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 13, 2008; Page B02

A private report issued this month praises the police and emergency response to the April 16, 2007, shootings at Virginia Tech.

The 144-page report published last week by the Archangel Group is being released with the stated goal of helping similar police agencies across the nation plan for and respond to future attacks.

"We know we haven't seen the last one," John Giduck, one of the report's authors, said. "If you're ready for the worst, you're ready for anything. Certainly for us here in America, Virginia Tech is the worst we've seen."

Giduck, a lawyer who has written about terrorism and law enforcement tactics, said shooters such as Seung Hui Cho study previous shooters with the goal of increasing casualties. The police, he said, need to study as well.

"The more information they have, the better they can prepare for the next one that comes. And we know the next one is coming," Giduck said. "Anyone out there looking to shoot up a school is looking to outdo Cho's body count right now."

Archangel prepared the study at its own expense, and the report was not requested by the university or state.

On April 16, 2007, Cho killed 32 students and faculty members before killing himself. The shooting -- the worst in the nation by a single gunman -- has been analyzed by the university and by a special panel created by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine. The group's investigation includes information from those reports, interviews and trips to the university. The findings are being released only to law enforcement and first responder agencies, but a copy was obtained by The Washington Post.

The report mostly praises the work that was done that day, saying the actions of the Blacksburg and campus police departments "were almost a perfect model of law enforcement interagency operability."

"For two small departments in a remote, bucolic region of the mountains of Virginia, it would have been impossible for anyone to have imagined the magnitude of the attack experienced on the campus that morning," the report reads. "Still, the command staff of these departments ensured that their officers were well equipped, well armed, well trained and had prepared for every possible major threat scenario from Columbine-type active shooter attacks to terror assaults."

University spokesman Larry Hincker said the report appears to "vindicate" the police departments.

"They all ought to feel pretty good that this very detailed analysis says they handled it as best as they could," he said. "I think what these folks are saying is this was a diabolically well-planned attack."

The report examines police deployment, asking such questions as how quickly the night shift officers were called to duty. The report found they were deployed just minutes before their shift ended.

It also examines whether a campus should order a lockdown. The dilemma, it found, is that asking students to stay in buildings could create "better mass killing conditions" for assailants, just as it could be dangerous to keep students from moving. The report recommended that the shooting serve as a lesson that "superior breaching tactics" are needed so that responders can gain entry into any building within seconds.

"The desire of schools, the American public, politicians and the news media to believe that there is a single response to any attack that will serve as a panacea -- eliminating the need to better prepare, plan and train for future attacks -- has almost become an obsession," the report says. "This smacks of the worst kind of constructive ignorance and vicious and baseless finger pointing. No one tactic will ever be completely effective against attacks on schools."

The public wants to be told everything is fine, Giduck said, but they have to be as realistic as law enforcement agencies.

"These shooters, anybody with a terrorist mindset, go in with what they think is a perfect plan," Giduck said. "The police get this thrown at them completely unexpectedly, all of a sudden one day."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company