From the president of the United States to the media echo chamber to every person in my hometown of Boulder, we all agree: Officer Eric Talley is a hero for rushing in to engage the mass shooter in my neighborhood’s King Soopers.
That raises a very awkward question: If Talley is a hero for rushing in, what does that make the dozens and dozens of cops who waited outside the store, while shots were ringing inside?
Let me concede immediately, we do not have all the facts. The police might have been wholly justified in holding back and waiting 42 minutes after officer Talley was reported down before entering the store. But from my view, the delay seems questionable.
Police response to mass shootings changed after the Columbine High School tragedy in 1999. Then first responders waited to enter the school under the false assumption that it was a hostage situation. It wasn’t. The inaction to immediately engage the killers cost lives.
The same thinking happened on Sept. 11, 2001. Previous terrorist takeovers of flights were hijackings. Comply with the hijackers, and hopefully everyone survives. No one thought they’d kill pilots and use planes as human-steered bombs.
After 9/11 pilots have locked, secured cockpits and if a plane were to be taken over every passenger would attack a terrorist to save lives. Notice there hasn’t been a “regular” hijacking since?
After Columbine, police trained to rush in, not wait. That training saved lives during the Aurora theater shooting. Police engaged right when they arrived, and it stopped the shooting. Police didn’t wait for ambulances; some victims were rush to hospitals in squad cars.
The painful lessons learned from Columbine ended up saving lives in Aurora years later.
It seems those lessons were forgotten when police responded to the mass shooting at my grocery store.
There is an amazing amount of video footage from the Boulder shooting, not that you and I have been able to see it. The authorities haven’t released it.
There are lots of video surveillance cameras through the store. I’ve seen them. They’re hard to miss, intentionally.
In fact, King Soopers just installed a very obvious (since it took up several needed parking spaces) video camera system with a bird’s-eye view of the parking lot. I assumed it’s because of the rampant rise in car break-ins in Boulder. And of course, police were wearing body cameras.
So, there is detailed footage of what happened inside and outside the store. All this video should be made public so we can see what happened when, and what the police response really was.
As it is now, the best available footage comes from a citizen journalist, Dean Schiller, who livestreamed the event. It can be viewed on his YouTube channel, ZFG Videography. (Warning, the first minute of the video shows victims’ bodies.)
From the video, it is clear that the police response time was amazingly fast, with officers, including Talley, on scene in moments. And after that law enforcement numbers grew large and seemingly instantly.
Police gathered around the front door, walked around the parking lot, even went on the roof, but they didn’t go in, even though shots could be clearly heard at 6:40 and 8:05 minutes into the Schiller video.
Were my neighbors dying in terror inside as police stood around the front door?
In an interview shown on KUSA, Eric Talley’s father recounted his son saying that if people were in trouble, he wouldn’t wait for orders. He told his dad if people were being hurt, he’d go in even if he was ordered not to.
I’ve privately spoken with my friends in law enforcement. They tell me they are trained to go in to save lives, and the likely reason they wouldn’t is if they were ordered not to. If true in this case, I hope the Boulder rank and file who were there have the bravery of Eric Talley to come forward and say what really happened.
If the observations from the Schiller video are what they seem to be, and often in police videos they are not, it proves what every person with a concealed-weapon permit knows: When seconds count, the police are only minutes away.
But sadly, it also shows that when the police are mere feet away, they might be 42 minutes away.
Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute in Denver and hosts “The Devil’s Advocate with Jon Caldara” on Colorado Public Television Channel 12. His column appears Sundays in Colorado Politics.