I started this article several years ago…
It was initially influenced by the tragedy of the Sandy Hook shootings. It was terrible, all those young children killed by a crazed gunman. Now, it’s 2016, and in the past six months alone there have been tragic active shooter incidents in schools, churches, medical clinics and on the streets, all singularly motivated by the uninhibited hostility of the perpetrators. This makes evident the fact that we haven’t progressed much on the problem. So I decided to finish the article – it is the least I can do.
When Sandy Hook happened, I traveled 100 miles to visit the office of my Congressional Representative, Dave Reichert. I implored his staff, “Don’t let this debate settle into the unproductive 2nd Amendment bar-fights that result in nothing being done.” They assured me that Representative Reichert, being a former King County Sherriff, would work hard to find answers. Still, here we sit after three years and 1000 active shooter events, still wondering what to do.[i] We really need to put gun control aside due to the political weight and entrenchment the issue causes. Besides, there may be other considerations that could work.
Another issue is that we tend to focus on the end-game by conducting active shooter exercises. There is no question these drills are useful – but if there is an active shooter in your building, it is too late. Whether we intend it or not, by conducting these active shooter exercises, we are basically saying the only solution to active shooter is to be ready when it happens. There is little study, discussion, preparation, training or policy-making that enables the detection of violent behavior before it escalates into homicide. The police have been asking us for years to be, “Proactive in informing the police about questionable behavior.”[ii]
Instead of preparing for the worst, perhaps we should consider efforts to avoid the worst altogether. To do this, we must understand that behaviors leading up to the active shooter event are observable. The active shooter event is at the end of a process and with the right policy and training, acting as a community we might be able to stop it from happening.
Consider solving the problem before it starts
Detection is only the start. James Gaffney, a police lieutenant who has studied active shooters identifies 5 stages an active shooter goes through prior to event. In the first stage, active shooters fantasize about the attack through speech or in drawings. Next, they actively plan by identifying targets and doing internet research and may even write a manifesto. They progress to preparing for the act by gathering needed weapons and practicing with them. Once they are prepared and before they attack, they are in their most dangerous approach phase. Finally the shooter decides to act in the implementation stage where they enter the site and attack their intended targets.
As the illustration in the former paragraph points out, most life-safety incidents do not just appear, but follow a progression of events. Some violent individuals show patterns of escalating behavior, which suggests detection before a life-threatening incident is possible.
When violent tendencies are detected, an even larger problem emerges. What are the options for effectively dealing with the behavior? Since the detected event falls below the radar of law enforcement, how should the person be reported? This is the conundrum that is at the core of the issue.
How is it possible to adjust the sensibilities of people in the workplace? How does management effectively intervene with someone who is showing violent tendencies? And most of all, how does the organization help the individual find help? In the coming weeks, I’ll work to answer these questions, exploring different ideas on how to prevent tragic active shooter incidents.
[i] Matthew Teague, Inglis, Florida: Home To The 1,000th U.S. Mass Shooting Since Sandy Hook, The Guardian, October 11, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/oct/11/mass-shooting-florida-1000th-sandy-hook
[ii] James Gaffney, Preventing Active Shooter Incidents, Law Enforcement Today, September 4, 2012 http://www.lawenforcementtoday.com/2012/09/04/preventing-active-shooter-incidents/
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