If you haven’t read Bullet Riddled then you’re missing a really interesting book. As I said in my review –you can read it here– Bullet Riddled is not for the faint of heart; Grant Whitus tells us his story, his personal account of some of the most tragic events that still are engraved in our memories. Honest, sincere, unfiltered -this is Bullet Riddled.
Read the interview with Sgt. Whitus about his new book and his life in law enforcement. Hope you enjoy.
Q: 26-year veteran of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s office in the Denver and retired as a Sergeant. 17 years on S.W.A.T., last seven as Team Leader. In you book – Bullet Riddled– you said you felt born to be a cop. What motivated you to join the law enforcement?
A: As you read in the book, I got into a lot of trouble as a child. I had ADHD and for that reason I had more energy than most people. At seventeen I got into a fight, I got caught and thrown in jail -that night I changed, and I decided to be a Law Enforcement officer.
Being a street officer allowed me to keep busy, always in and out of my patrol car. I was very athletic so the SWAT test was not hard; shooting was easy and in high stress conditions -such as a shooting- I didn’t suffer from anxiety, so it seemed to be a perfect fit.
Q: The public is seldom given the opportunity to understand what being an officer -especially a S.W.A.T. officer- really means, what truly entails, and without that information it is extremely difficult to understand the sacrifices that are being made. What is the biggest misconception people have about your job?
A: I think the biggest misconception in law enforcement is that the Officers are lazy, don’t do much and don’t really care about the citizens -which can be furthest from the truth. Later in my career, as the SWAT Team leader, I often told my SWAT guys that citizens lives come before ours. We lived by that belief.
Q: At some point in your career you were selected to be on a narcotic unit. In your book you said that America has a huge appetite for drugs but the law enforcement doesn’t have the manpower to make a real impact, and drug policies have failed to produce real success. On the other hand Americans’ support for legal marijuana has steadily grown over time. How you think it’s going to play out?
A: When I was selected to the Highway Drug Interdiction Unit, I believed we were making a difference. But as time went on, I realized we were only making a small dent into drug trafficking. As far as legalizing marijuana, time will only tell. Hopefully education and enforcement will help this transition as it spreads across the US.
Q: One word stands out from the cover of Bullet Riddled: “Columbine”, its impact extends to the point that it entered the lexicon as a point of reference for tragedy. We all remember what happened on that day, but your book brought up to light new details never shared before. There is a specific episode in chapter five: you were assisting Mr. Sanders and medical arrived, unprepared, without any medical kit. Training is essential, do you think law enforcement / medics are really prepared for such tragic events?
A: Today the law enforcement response is incorporating medics into the active shooter location,side by side with the officers. Several agencies are doing this now.
In the future I believe most agencies will be doing this, at least the smart one who read the book!
Q: People often misunderstand “fog of war” -notion used to describe the complexities and confusion of military engagements – and see it as an excuse for inadequate planning or incompetent leadership. How would you explain that?
A: When I refer to it in the book I’m speaking of all the information being reported by students and teachers in Columbine. There was so much inaccurate information coming in related to the shooters and their location; at one point we even believed there were as many as 9 shooters in different locations.
This same thing happened early in the Platte Canyon shooting. It’s up the the Officers/SWAT Teams to work through it. This will occur in every mass shooting.
As far as incompetent leadership every department has some level of this, we certainly did. The problem with our department was that Lieutenants and above do not go to in “service training” so do not stay current on the latest tactical training.
Q: You were the first officer to enter the library and see Harris and Klebold, dead. Your reaction when you realised that the gunmen were kids, as an officer. As a father.
A: As far as finding them dead, I had no reaction to them being kids. By that time I had seen and felt their detestation.
As a father what was hardest for me is that a few days later was having to talk to my 7 yr old son about what to to if anyone ever starts shooting in his school. Never something a father should have to talk to his son about.
Q: We’ve learned since Columbine that the clues are often there. Klebold, Harris, Cho, Lanza all exhibited signs of unstable behaviour. Why we notice the brenches after a massive tragedy occurs? And how can we stop mass shooting?
A: If parents stay more engaged with the children some could be avoided; such as how did two teenagers build all the bombs and acquire all those weapons without the parents ever finding out?
The question of how can we stop mass shooting from occurring, my answer is always we can’t. Law enforcement, schools, and citizens need to be better prepared for any eventuality.
Q: Behind a friendly neighbour or a shy classmate can hide a cruel killer. What’s the most common trigger you saw ignite the devil in people? Is it bullism, frustration, mental illness?
A: I tell people i have the luxury of not caring why bad people do bad things, I only have to concern myself with stopping them. My opinion is two fold: mental illness is number one. A mentally ill person committing acts of extreme violence usually wants the publicity that the media gives them, as there last act before death.
Q: After Albertsons, Columbine, Canyon Platte you said you used those horrible experiences to become a better agent and you understood the need to reform your squad. But you encountered a quite stiff resistance from the “old guard”. Where do you think such display of reticence comes from?
A: I think the team leader – who was a great leader- suffered from PTSD after Columbine. He and the older team members believed it was an isolated incident so they “shut down”. I -on the other hand- believed this was only the start for copy-cat shooters, seeing all the publicity, to do the same thing.
That’s why I had to divide the team to move forward, it tore it apart but I believed it was the right thing to do.
Q: The need for reformed gun laws is the general consensus, but an accord on what exactly need to be done can’t seem to be reached. What America needs now?
A: Reformed gun laws wont work. The only ones that will follow the laws are good citizens who wouldn’t unjustly shoot someone anyway. When people ask me about tougher gun laws I’m quick to point out how it’s working in Chicago.
Sergeant Grant Whitus is a twenty-six-year veteran of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office in the Denver, Colorado, area and retired as a Sergeant. He served seventeen years on S.W.A.T. , the last seven years as the S.W.A.T. Team Leader, and is an expert in Close Quarter Battle, which is classified as a firearms shoot-out within a close distance such as a school room.
Grant was the Lead Shield S.W.A.T. Member during the Columbine High School shooting. He gave aid to the teacher who was shot and then was the first to enter the library and locate the shooters.
Sgt. Whitus was the S.W.A.T. Team Leader, who devised and executed the explosive tactical plan for the hostage rescue at Platte Canyon High School in September 2006 and also during the Bulldozer Incident in Granby, Colorado.
Sgt. Grant Whitus has received sixteen medals including five Medals for Valor and is the most decorated at the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office. In 2002, Grant and his S.W.A.T. Team were honored as “Police Officers of the Year“.
Grant has been featured on: FOX NEWS, ABC, CNN, CBS, Dr. Drew Pinsky, Law Enforcement Today, NBC, MSNBC, FOX & Friends…to list a few.
Find Grant Whitus here:
Goodreads: Author’s Page
Thank you Sgt. Whitus for taking the time to answer these questions and for sharing your experience with us!