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Police commander presents lessons learned from the Aurora Theater Shooting

Police commander presents lessons learned from the Aurora Theater Shooting

James Puscian presents key takeaways from the 2012 mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado

April 29, 2016Valerie Snaman

Police Commander James Puscian recently spoke at START on the role of first responders in the July 20, 2012 mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. He said that in the course of a day, the event permanently marred the sleepy town of Aurora, doubling its annual homicide rate in a matter of minutes and forever changing the lives of its citizens.

In giving the lecture to START students, staff and local law enforcement, Puscian hoped that details of the day could offer key lessons on leadership and communication when dealing with crises.

According to Puscian, certain aspects stood out as major accomplishments in response to the crisis:

  • All victims with survivable wounds lived thanks to compassionate officers making the decision to take victims in their squad cars instead of waiting for ambulances.
  • Communication duties were split between the Police Chief, Mayor, Governor and other critical incident response team members to avoid repeating the same details and maintain clear messages to the public.
  • Support both on that day – and even now, four years later – has been incredible: Officers and first responders came from all neighboring cities, various professional public information officers (PIOs) stepped up to represent each victim’s family, shielding families from unwanted attention.
  • The independent actions by officers, dispatchers and theater employees proved that intuition and “leadership moments” are profoundly important in crises.

Puscian also recognized some lessons learned:

  • Create a “go bag” for every officer with materials useful in a multitude of crises and train law enforcement officers in tactical casualty care.
  • Repeat messages as needed because sensory overload can occur.
  • Organize leadership and communication ahead of time to avoid gaps and create overlap where needed.

START students remained captivated throughout Puscian’s talk:

"Although we are always told in a crisis that every second counts, very few of us have a true appreciation of what that means. Being taken through the events at the Aurora Theater shootings from the perspective of both the victims and law enforcement on a second by second basis was both powerful and informative," said Michelle Peters, University College London 2015, an intern on START’s Strategic Multilayer Assessment Team.

For a more detailed account of the shooting, its aftermath and key takeaways, please read Aurora’s After Action Report.