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D.C. police chief takes critical look at Navy Yard shooting response

Metropolitan Chief of Police Cathy Lanier speaks about the tactical response to the Navy Yard shooting one year ago. Katie Causey | Hatchet Staff Photographer
Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier speaks about the tactical response to the Navy Yard shooting one year ago. Katie Causey | Hatchet Staff Photographer

This post was written by Hatchet staff writer Benjamin Kershner. 

Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier spoke at GW on Wednesday about officers’ response to the Navy Yard shooting.

A day after the one-year anniversary of the shooting that claimed the lives of 12 people, Lanier walked nearly 50 members of D.C.’s emergency response community through MPD’s response to the crisis.

The D.C. police chief took a critical look at the response, pointing out flaws and how MPD has corrected those shortcomings.

Here are top five takeaway’s from Lanier’s presentation.

1. Communication is key

With dozens of federal and local agencies in D.C., the Navy Yard shooting tested the District’s inter-agency communication. And the city failed that test, Lanier said.

Hundreds of law enforcement personnel responded to the scene of the mass shooting, and Lanier said the lack of communication between the agencies resulted in a “coordination nightmare.

“Improving the communication between the different agencies has been a priority of mine since becoming chief of MPD, but the Navy Yard incident made it a priority for everyone,” Lanier said.

2. Boosted training

But the mayhem started with the city’s dispatchers, who had not been trained to respond to active shooter situations, Lanier said.

The first MPD units thought they were headed to the scene of a homicide, not an active shooting, Lanier said.

“The dispatcher did not realize that this was an active shooter partly because we had never pulled our dispatchers in and trained them with our police officers on active shooter situations,” Lanier said. “That is one of the things that we do now.”

3. An update in systems

And once on the scene, MPD officers couldn’t figure out which building the shooter was in because the dispatch system’s GPS didn’t detail the base’s roads and buildings.

Once MPD officials arrived, they had trouble getting through the gates and onto the base. All entrances and exits are manned by security guards, and after many left their posts, no one was there to let the squad cars through the gates.

“We have now gone around to every closed campus in D.C., places like military bases, business complexes, universities, and we have updated our system accordingly in order to properly reflect the streets and building locations within all closed campuses,” Lanier said.

4. A “tactical nightmare”

Lanier described Building 197, where the shooting occurred, as a “tactical nightmare.”

Officers encountered a maze of cubicles once they got into the 600,000-square-foot building. To make matters worse, the building’s concrete and steel structure scrambled officers’ radio transmissions.

Lanier added that MPD’s unfamiliarity with the basis also hindered the response.

“We had this image that everyone inside a military base was armed. The reality is about 12 people inside the entire base had guns,” Lanier said, according to a GW Today article.

5. Remembering those who passed

In his one-hour-and-nine-minute rampage, Aaron Alexis claimed the lives of 12 people and wounded several others, including MPD officers who confronted Alexis at the base.

Lanier reminded her audience to “never forget those we lost and to continue to honor their memories.”

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