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Opinion/Editorial: Don't lock police out when their help is needed

Opinion/Editorial: Don't lock police out when their help is needed

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It was horrifying to hear, on a recent Friday afternoon, about yet another mass shooting — this time in Virginia Beach. A dozen innocent people were murdered, others wounded — no warning, no rescue, no escape.

As sickening as that news was, more bad news was to come:

Police initially were locked out of the building where the shooting occurred and spent frantic minutes trying to gain access.

The incident shows a clear safety gap that must be addressed: Police need to be able to enter sites quickly where an active shooter is on the rampage.

But it shouldn’t have taken the deaths of 12 innocents in Virginia Beach to make that point.

We’ve known about the safety gap since 2013.

The problem is key-card or key-code security access — which, of course, is supposed to protect people inside a building from dangerous outsiders.

The security practice became widespread after the attacks of 9/11, The Associated Press reports.

Keeping dangerous people out is a good strategy. But when the dangerous people already have electronic access, the system sometimes “works” to keep out police.

That was an issue in 2013 at the Navy Yard shooting in nearby D.C., in which 12 people also were killed. A former reservist gained access to the building and police initially were stymied by the key-card entry system.

A Washington police officer took a key card from a dead security officer and used it to allow first responders to get into the building, according to a review of the incident, The AP reports.

In Virginia Beach, the killer was a city employee who had sent in his resignation letter just that morning but who presumably still had an active key card or access code. Meanwhile, the police department was housed in the same complex, so police were on the scene relatively quickly.

Additionally, as experts point out, police are trained to deal with difficult access situations. They don’t just stand around bemoaning the problem; they take axes and hammers to the doors or windows, or use other techniques.

Still, over police scanners some frustration was heard when officers were stopped by locked doors and protected corridors.

Police eventually took down the shooter on the second floor of the building, after he had sprayed the first floor with gunfire. We’ll never know how many people might have been saved if police had been able to get to him more rapidly.

Here’s an element of good news: The press service reports that schools are at the forefront of an effort to make sure police have access to buildings when they need it, by giving them their own key cards or making other types of arrangements.

Gaining key cards to a handful of schools is workable solution because it’s a limited one, a manageable one. 

However, a limited solution isn’t good enough. Police can’t reasonably carry key cards to every building in their jurisdiction. We need to the police to protect us, and police need ready access to buildings in order to do so.

Building managers should address the issue before that need becomes a matter of life and death. Some kind of pre-arranged plan must be in place to get police where they need to go.

Security systems might be the state-of-the-art method for keeping dangerous outsiders outside .

But they shouldn’t keep police, firefighters and rescue personnel outside as well.

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