Local Readiness: Bedford Police Train to Confront an Unthinkable Incident

By Julie McCay Turner

Bedford Police Chief Robert Bongiorno – Image (c) JMcCT, 2019 all rights reserved

In the wake of recent mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Police Chief Robert Bongiorno discussed local readiness should a similar incident occur in Bedford.

Active Shooter Training

Along with their day-to-day duties and participation in exemplary community engagement programs,  Bedford police officers “simultaneously train in confronting the unthinkable, which is an active shooter, what we just saw in Ohio and Texas,” said Chief Bongiorno.

Active shooter response protocols have changed dramatically in the 20 years since Columbine, noted Bongiorno.  “Officers were trained to contain, set up a perimeter, and wait for the SWAT team with a higher level of training. … From that, we went to three-person engagement teams, and now we know, sometimes we can’t wait for those three-person teams. ”

“All of our officers are trained to make an initial entry into an active shooter scene,” Bongiorno noted. “Officers are trained to engage by him or herself, to go to the sounds of the shots, and to actively seek out and engage the shooter because we know that minutes matter. The more minutes that we shave off [our response time], the more lives we save. So that’s what our training is based upon right now, engaging [the shooter] as quickly as possible. And we know that can mean a one-person entry team, a one-person engagement team.”

Bedford partners with the Northeast Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council (NEMLEC) and its regional SWAT team, Chief Bongiorno continued. “NEMLEC would be on the ground within 30 minutes of any critical incident, but history shows us that active shooter scenes are often over within just a few minutes.  It’s incumbent on those first officers to confront and actively engage an active shooter.” Bedford’s current training emphasizes ‘engaging’ (stopping)  the active shooter.

The Town’s police officers get the most up-to-date training available taught by one of their own, Sergeant Pat Towle, the head of NEMLEC’s SWAT team. The training Sgt. Towle provides to the officers under his command is the same training that he provides to his Bedford colleagues.

A National Perspective

On August 4, the International Association of Chiefs of Police issued a statement calling upon its members, community members, advocacy groups and lawmakers “to work together to develop strategies to combat gun violence.” The IACP also published a firearm policy position statement. https://bit.ly/2TbhKtm earlier this year.

Chief Bongiorno supports the IACP’s recommendations at the national level and points out that Massachusetts has some of the most robust gun laws in the nation, thanks to the hard work and support of our legislators.

“I think it’s very simplistic to stigmatize people with mental illness, and we need to be very cautious with that. I think it’s important to state that the vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent people.  It’s unfair to blame this gun violence on people with mental illness.”

Chief Bongiorno advocates a fresh, national look at federal gun laws. “My broader approach would be more comprehensive gun laws that prohibit the sale and manufacture of assault and semiautomatic weapons. I think that this should be an outright ban across this country. I think we need to have very thorough and comprehensive federal background checks, and a cooling-off period of at least five days [in all gun sales].”

Obtaining A Legal Firearm in Bedford

In Massachusetts, towns issue both License to Carry (LTC) permits and Firearm Identification (FID) cards that allow the purchase, possession,  and carrying of non-large-capacity rifles, shotguns, and ammunition.

In Bedford, applications, interviews, and background checks are reviewed by Chief Bongiorno for “suitability.” If an applicant is deemed unsuitable to carry a firearm, a court proceeding could be invoked to override a particular decision.

The most recent official count from February 2, 2018, showed 690 Bedford residents were licensed to carry a firearm, and  54 had FID cards.

Bedford’s Gun Buyback Program

Bedford has had a buyback program for unwanted guns since 2013. It was instituted by Don Marshall and Rev. John Gibbons, Senior Minister of First Parish Unitarian Universalist, in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school shooting.

Residents may contact the Bedford police department, and an officer will come to your house to retrieve that firearm. And should the resident wish, the department will send a $50 check for each weapon that you turn in.

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