Today it's all a piece of increasingly distant history, but hearing interviews with many of those who were involved on the radio and local television today was enlightening in a bizarre, futureshock or perhaps reverse futureshock kind of way. It was revelatory to be reminded of how different things were in 1966 in Austin and how the city and our world have changed since then.
A few examples relating to the incident stood out. 1966 was really before the introduction of SWAT teams. They were invented at least in part from the response to this incident. As a result the response to Whitman's sniping was much more rapid than it would be today, concluded in a couple of hours when today it might have taken twice as long or more. But the process involved a lot more risk for civilians and for the officers involved. Regular patrol officers showed up, there weren't very many of them, they had no special weapons and had to work fast and improvise. There was no real attempt to negotiate, although that might have changed if Whitman had hostages. There was also minimal supervision and coordination, and certainly no scenarios or game plan for dealing with what at the time was a unique situation. There was an aerial flyby and a very unsuccessful attempt to shoot Whitman from the plane, but solving the problem basically came down to a few very brave and outgunned men charging a trained killer.
What struck me as most fascinating were the accounts from several sources of how the police dealt with the lack of covering fire that a SWAT team would provide today. They just went to citizens in the area and asked them to bring their rifles and shoot at the tower, and they all went to their pickups, got their deer rifles and did what they could to help. Their covering fire kept Whitman down and limited him to shooting through a drain opening, pretty much stopping the killing and giving officers the opportunity to get into the building. The officers also deputized one of the citizens to go with them into the tower to give them a bit more firepower, although he didn't end up facing Whitman.