Defeat School Shooters Before the First Shot!
- James P Gaffney
- On April 7, 2012
Oikos University in Oakland, California is the latest school to fall victim to an active shooter incident (ASI). As similar as one ASI may be in comparison with other incidents, each incident is also unique unto itself.
The shooter, One L. Goh, was upset with fellow students as well as a member of the administrative staff. Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan mentioned factors which tend to be commonplace in an ASI. Chief Jordan indicated that Goh felt disrespected. Jordan stated that people associated with the school laughed at Goh. They made fun of his poor English speaking skills. This belittling made him feel isolated from students and staff. Goh’s past behavioral issues led to Oikos University to expel him. He chose to return months later armed with a handgun looking for a school administrator with whom he had issues. Goh didn’t find her, but killed 7 other people; 1 staff member and 6 students.
Dissimilarities include the fact that Goh is 43. Active school shooters tend to be males from teenage years to early twenties. Goh did not commit suicide. Quite often an ASI is over minutes after it begins, with the shooter killing himself.
Goh escaped to a nearby Safeway supermarket and told the security guard he needed to talk to the police because he shot people. He surrendered to police without incident. This is not typical behavior of a person who has executed 7 people.
Also unusual is Goh’s cooperation with the investigation. The police have a unique opportunity to gain understanding by speaking with Goh himself, instead of being limited to reconstructing a crime scene and interviewing victims and witnesses. One thing Goh has not done is inform police about the location of his firearm.
A 2002 study by the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education reviewed 37 school shootings. There was no identifiable profile of a potential active shooter, but some common facts emerged. An ASI is typically planned well in advance, according to the study. Active shooters have access to weapons and have used them prior to the ASI. Most active shooters gain access to firearms from their own homes or from family member’s homes.
In January, 2011, Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford and 18 other people were shot by Jared Loughner. Six people were killed. Loughner had earlier been expelled from Pima Community College (PCC). He was advised that he could not return to PCC until a mental health professional had documented he was not a danger to himself or others.
PCC left out one important step. The local, non-campus law enforcement agency was not advised that Loughner was considered to be a danger to himself and others. Loughner purchased a firearm. Why was he able to buy a gun? No record existed that Loughner was mentally unstable. This misstep demonstrates the critical importance of local police and the college community working proactively to address the needs of students for their own protection, as well as that of the public and other students.
Firearm ownership is protected in the Bill of Rights. The issue is not to keep weapons out of the hands of law-abiding, mentally stable citizens. However, educational authorities can assist in keeping guns out of the hands of unstable individuals by learning the warning signs of a potential active shooter and reporting them as appropriate to local law enforcement.
Troubled students need to receive timely and appropriate assistance. Schools must learn how to intervene when a student may be having thoughts about injuring himself or others prior to the commission of a crime. A student is still reachable by professional counseling at this point. If the student is not open to counseling by the school, then the school may be obligated to reach out for assistance. It is antiquated thinking to believe that if an outside agency becomes involved with solving a student’s problem the school has failed. This is not correct.
A school fails when corrective action is not initiated. The earlier a potential problem is recognized, the more likely it is that it can be corrected. If schools fail to take action until the active shooter walks through the door, the only thing police can do is react after the fact. People are dying as 911 is first called. The first responder is at a distinct disadvantage. Shots are being fired. People are being killed and now police must fight through chaos to gain control.
Last year, prior to attending the ILEETA Conference, I had dinner with Lt. Dan Marcou, an expert in active shooters. Marcou developed the theory of the Five Stages of the Active Shooter, which I outline below:
The shooter exhibits fantasies about hurting others in speech, drawings, writing or as posted online. This is the best time to intervene. A criminal act has not yet occurred. Nobody has been hurt. At this stage, a potential active shooter is crying out for help. If police are notified, assistance may be provided without incident.
The shooter’s thoughts are replaced by action at this stage. He is making decisions about targets, activities, as the when, where, and how’s are being coordinated. An individual planning an ASI may research topics on a computer or even write and publish a manifesto authorizing death warrants. Intervention at this stage brings all activity to a stop. The circumstances will determine if medical treatment or legal action is required to address the situation if law enforcement is given an opportunity to intervene.
The potential shooter devotes time to gather needed materials to complete the deadly task. Items can be purchased to construct explosives. Ammunition may be acquired or purchased. The potential shooter practices his moves. The shooter is ensuring that he can carry out the plan. A potential active shooter tends to forewarn friends to stay away. If law enforcement is notified of a potential shooter’s suspected intentions, there is a possibility that police can intercede without the loss of life.
This is a very dangerous time. The shooter is committed to carrying out his plan. He is headed toward his intended target. Most likely, he has his weapons on his person or secreted nearby.
Law enforcement may unknowingly engage the shooter by initiating an unrelated traffic stop or may be directed to the shooter based on reported suspicious conduct. This is the last opportunity to overcome the shooter before he acts out.
The shooter makes his entry. The plan is in action. The shooting begins. People are being injured and killed. Four phases have already transpired. This is the last one. It is usually at this point law enforcement receives the first call. Law enforcement has become very quick, efficient, and effective at this stage. Unfortunately, this action tends to be too little, too late. The police are on scene when people are already either wounded or dead. The shooter has often taken his life by the time officers respond.
Once the stages of the active shooter are clearly understood, it becomes evident that middle school, high school, college, and university authorities need to take a more aggressive stance in addressing how students treat fellow students. If law enforcement is not a welcomed partner to stop the active shooter, then this responsibility belongs to the school alone.
School shooting situations demonstrate the importance of school resource officers (SRO) working in middle and high schools to offset the possibility of an ASI. A SRO tends to bond and communicate well with students. The SRO open lines of communication directly with students, staff, and administration; a familiar face of the local police department working within the school environment. School administrators and parents may be unsure of this program at first, until they understand that an SRO is not there to interfere. The officer is there to assist students on behalf of the police department.
Some colleges and universities have a campus police force. This is a great benefit. The campus police, aside from conducting their everyday duties, also have officers who are familiar with students, the campus design, and campus buildings. In the terrible event of an ASI, their response will be quicker. Campus police personnel have far more familiarity with the campus than local police officers. Campus police departments can coordinate a first-responder approach on scene supported by the arrival of the local police departments providing mutual aid assistance.
Every college and university cannot maintain a police force. Local police can also partner with college administration on a continual basis so that police presence is not limited to responding when there is a significant emergency. I understand that there may be issues raised regarding a student’s right to privacy. I respect one’s right to privacy, but I believe one has the right to live as well!
Harassment, hazing, humiliation, and bullying are circumstances which cause a vulnerable people to experience victimization. If such students do not receive the positive help they need, they may become an active shooter. A school certainly should take the lead in monitoring the conduct of all their students, but the proactive assistance of law enforcement as needed should not be overlooked.
School shootings can be prevented through intervention. Active shooters are exposed to conduct in which they perceive themselves as victims. These perceptions result in the internal justification to act out as an active shooter. Shooters retaliate for all that they perceive has been done to them, such as in the Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings. They frequently have no remorse, as is the case with One Goh. Educated intervention early in the process is the key to saving lives and managing risk within our local schools and college campuses.
Jim Gaffney, MPA is LET’s risk management/police administration contributor. He has served with a metro-New York police department for over 25 years in varying capacities including patrol officer, sergeant, lieutenant, and executive officer. He is an ILEETA and ICAP member. Jim mentors the next generation of LEO’s by teaching university-level criminal justice courses as an adjunct professor in the New York City area.
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