When thinking about topics for an oral history project I might find interesting, I asked my father, a police officer, about events that had been significant to him within his lifetime. It was then I thought about the Columbine High School school shooting in 1999 because my father had been called in for work and I vividly remember watching it on the news. This school shooting, which occurred in Littleton, Colorado, significantly changed police tactics in response to school shootings and was, in many cases, an entirely new experience for many police officers. I think an interesting oral history project would be to speak with police officers who had been responders during the shooting and explore how police work has changed due to the shooting.
Two Columbine high school students acquired guns and on 20 April 1999, entered the school and fired on both staff and students in the library and cafeteria. Both students then committed suicide. In total, twelve students and one teacher were killed with 21 others injured by gunfire. Because of this attack, police tactics were significantly changed and the Immediate Action Rapid Deployment Tactic created, used in situation with an active shooter. Prior to this, tactics were more geared toward situations for hostages and for containment. Tactics were changed because police had not been prepared for this situation with the typical tactics.
I would like to speak with police officers that were present to see how police work has changed after this shooting. I think a project like this would be significant to oral history because of it caused the creation of an entirely new police tactic and changed how police work is now conducted, especially in respect to schools. This tactic has proved important in many ways at other school shootings making it very significant. Knowing how police work has changed would be very interesting and should be considered in oral history as significant.
Not only is it significant, but it is very relevant to current events today. There is still an ongoing fight for better gun control and school shootings are still a problem today. It also explains why elementary schools have active shooter drills alongside fire drills. An understanding of how police work has changed because of this event is as relevant today as it was in 1999.
I am excited that my interviewee has had a long career in the police force (spanning more than three decades) giving the longevity of experience. I am hoping to discover how a police officer makes sense of their identity through day to day roles; experience of publicised events; and images in media and public opinion. I hope to discover a personal experience of such a career and in doing so will base questions around these themes:
Early life, schooling and aspirations
Early career, becoming an officer and initial experiences
Roles and responsibilities
Policing 1980s Britain
Reflection and opinion of images surrounding police
Reflection and opinion regarding changes in policing over time
My interviewee is a colleague of mine and so there should be some degree of comfort in which we can both, hopefully, talk at ease. He is often telling anecdotes derived from his past career in the police force and I am excited to gain more detail and understanding into these. However, I am also concerned that knowing him personally (although not particularly well) I may find it difficult to probe for challenging/controversial or personal insights. That said, he seems more than comfortable, and dare I say enthused, to talk about his experiences. He is a humorous and opinionated man so I should at least find the experience fun and interesting.
I have a few concerns. I am anxious that I will miss suitable opportunities to probe for further detail and understanding, or to clarify unclear dialogue. Whilst I will plan for more specific, as well as ‘open’ questions, I want the conversation to naturally follow the lead of the interviewee’s responses. I am also rather nervous of constantly seeking clarification/ understanding, although I am trying to dispel this with thorough secondary reading around the police.
Whilst I am looking for a career focus rather than a life history, I am still concerned there may be more to cover than I will allow time for.
Finally, I am apprehensive that my nerves will show during the interview and this may affect my ‘authority as interviewer’. Whilst I want the interview to be a shared experience and jointly lead by question and response, I require my questions to make the principle framework of the interview. Given that the interviewee has built a career on interviewing and analysing others, I feel this will be an interesting experience for both of us!