‘We get to choose who we’re going to be,’ Dayton police chief reflects on year since mass shooting

Oregon District Shooting

DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – The phone call that awoke Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl was one he had heard before: the report of an officer involved shooting.

“What I wasn’t prepared for was what was said next. Multiple casualties, there was a mass shooting, it was just shocking,” he said.

The response by six of Biehl’s officers drew national praise.  Just 20 seconds after the first shot was fired, they located and targeted the gunman.  And 12 seconds after that, the threat was over.

He remarked, “That was unbelievable, and it was crucial, and everyone in this agency was so proud of what they did. Extremely grateful, and not just in this agency, in this city, in this region. It didn’t matter where we went for days and weeks later. The number of people who would come up many with tears in their eyes and say thank you so much for what your officers did.”

But even with that quick and effective response, the damage had been done.  In less than 30 seconds, the gunman fired 41 shots, killing nine and injuring 20 others.  Biehl says weapons like that are a danger to us all.

“That kind of lethality in the hands of a person committed to violence as this person was, any response, even six good guys with a gun within less than half a minute is still going to be inadequate to stop the level of carnage that can be inflicted, as it was very clearly in this case,” Chief Biehl remarked.

In the days after the shooting, the public learned of the gunman’s previous history of troubling, threatening, and sometimes violent behavior, a common pattern in mass shootings. Biehl says Americans need to act to save their own lives.

“There are indicators over time that an individual is heading down the path of potential significant violence and that’s known to someone, usually. We have got to do a better job of educating the public what are those potential indicators and encouraging them to report,” he says.

The Chief reflects on the year it’s been: the KKK, 15 tornadoes, a mass shooting, the loss of a beloved detective, and a global pandemic.  It has taken its toll. 

“I’m a person that’s struggled a lot quite honestly over the past year plus, and have really needed more so than any time in my life to befriend grief because this is true suffering,” he said.

But he adds, it’s the choices we all make that will chart our path into the future. And we will go there together.

“In every single moment we get to choose who we’re going to be no matter what. It’s so important, that choice we make, and we can’t look around at the rest of the world, what the rest of the world is doing and judge what our behavior should be based on that. We get the ability to choose. We need to choose wisely, we need to be the best that we can be despite the behavior of anybody around us,” he said.

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