SWAT Rules Rewritten

When the SWAT team raced into McNeel Middle School in Beloit Wisconsin last year, they were training for something they hoped would never happen.

The drill ended up being chillingly similar to what would happen months later in Littleton. "As Littleton unfolded we looked at one another and it was quite eerie," said Captain Sam Lathrop of the Beloit Police Department.

Now the video of the McNeel Middle School training session is in demand by other SWAT teams around the country as they try to figure out how to avoid the chaos that may have cost lives at Columbine.

When the Littleton SWAT Team got to Columbine High School, they didn't even have a floor plan, reports CBS News Correspondent John Blackstone. SWAT Commander Terry Manwaring asked a couple of students to help.

"As I was zipping up my TAC jacket, I said you guys go to Columbine. They said yeah. I said here's my notebook, here's a bunch of pens, draw me a diagram of the floor plan," Manwaring remembers from that day.

Police from all over the area came to help, but they were on different radio systems. There was trouble communicating. "The information flow coming in to us was just crazy," Manwaring said.

The SWAT team at Columbine tried to operate by the book; the trouble was the book didn't cover this. "If I was to come up with a training thing for these guys, I could not have duplicated this," said Manwaring. "In my worst imagination, I couldn't."

Aggressive attack may be the SWAT image, but their training usually stresses caution, says former police chief Joe McNamara. "I've been in charge of many, many SWAT operations and your best strategy is ordinarily patience and negotiation," McNamara said.

But Littleton has rewritten the rules. According to McNamara, "The traditional SWAT policy of sitting and waiting and negotiating has to be changed so that there's more instant action."

In the Beloit training exercise, police moved in quickly, increasing the danger for both SWAT officers and hostages. But after Littleton SWAT teams everywhere are asking can they afford to wait?

  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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