LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
San Bernardino police deployed considerable heavy equipment in response to Wednesday's shooting. Military-style armor and vehicles can make the police more secure. They also raise concerns that cops will become militarized. NPR's Martin Kaste reports.
MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Lt. Travis Walker is the commander of the San Bernardino police SWAT team. It's a team that just happened to be near the scene of the attack on Wednesday.
TRAVIS WALKER: We were just working through scenarios when this call went out.
KASTE: Walker says they decided to train that day in part to learn some lessons from the deadly shootout in Colorado Springs last week. This response isn't unique to San Bernardino. In the weeks since Paris, local law enforcement agencies around the country have been preparing for the possibility of more challenging attacks. In San Bernardino on Wednesday morning, Walker was running his officers through scenarios with volunteers playing the role of shooters.
WALKER: We had just finished a training scenario that involved multiple shooters at multiple locations within a small confined area.
KASTE: And then they were off to the scene of a real-life multiple shooter attack. They didn't get there in time to stop it, but the suspects were killed in a shootout later in the day. Walker and his team were there for that, too, using armored vehicles to get close. And that scene was meaningful because those were the very same kind of armored vehicles that for the last year or so have become a symbol of what some people call police militarization, something that's gotten a bad rap since Ferguson. But, Walker says now people see why they have the heavy gear.
WALKER: Society has changed, weaponry has changed that individuals have access to, and it's not that we seek to militarize law enforcement. The goal is is to try to make sure that we reduce the number of human casualties.
KASTE: Most policing experts agree that this kind of gear is needed. But some of the more reform-minded experts are also apprehensive. They're watching for the fallout from attacks like this.
SUE RAHR: What went through my mind was a fear that people were going to jump to the conclusion that, oh, my gosh, we have to go back to just being warriors.
KASTE: Sue Rahr runs the police academy in Washington state, and she was part of President Obama's Task Force on 21st Century Policing, where she argued strongly for police to think of themselves less as warriors and more as guardians.
RAHR: Frankly, the most important thing we can do is figure out ways to prevent or predict when these are going to happen so we can stop them before they happen because there's no way, with the best training and equipment in the world, we have about two or three minutes before the worst of it is usually over.
KASTE: Rahr says even with military-style training and gear, police should still think like guardians. And San Bernardino may be a case in point. The SWAT commander, Travis Walker, recalls the active shooter safety classes that his officers have been teaching in the community. He says they taught one of those classes at the Inland Regional Center last year. And on Wednesday, his men saw people there using those techniques, something he believes saved lives. Martin Kaste, NPR News, San Bernardino.