Can technology assist in combatting school violence? During the recent Veteran’s Day break, Shooter Detection Systems provided a demonstration of their Guardian Indoor Active Shooter Detection System technology at a Methuen, Massachusetts school.
The “active shooter” role player was armed with an assault rifle firing inert rounds. He began firing in the school library and then transitioned to the hallways and individual classrooms. The sensors, which appear similar in size and as unobtrusive as smoke alarms, captured the sounds of gunfire and the muzzle flashes from the rifle and was able to determine the shooter’s direction of travel and location. He was apprehended within a few minutes. How many “real” victims would have been saved? A few minutes of firing an assault rifle with a thirty-round magazine could inflict substantial casualties.
Studies by both the FBI and Texas State University have determined that beginning in 2009, there has been an upward trajectory of active shooters and mass killings. Schools being targeted in approximately thirty percent of active shooter cases have invested heavily in security systems and in deploying armed school resource officers. In a survey of 600 districts by Campus Safety Magazine, since the Sandy Hook shooting, approximately 90%of U.S. school systems have made security enhancements and changed security protocols. Annual spending on school security systems is projected to increase to nearly 5 billion dollars by 2017 according to HIS, a research company.
The active shooter system was demonstrated in front of 100 dignitaries and law enforcement officials. Methuen Police Chief Joseph Solomon was impressed with what he witnessed and how quickly the shooting was reported. He believes systems similar to the one demonstrated at the school should be required in many public buildings.
The same technology has been deployed in military combat zones and in numerous municipalities across the country to react faster after gunfire. The quicker response allows the opportunity to render aid, locate witnesses and apprehend a fleeing suspect. The system can also be used in an intelligence led policing application to identify crime patterns. A system installed by ShotSpotter in Washington, DC, demonstrates the effectiveness of the technology. According to the Metropolitan Police in 2008, the system assisted in the location of 62 victims of crime and assisted in nine offender apprehensions
In a study conducted by Texas State University, of 84 active shooter cases, nearly 50% of the active shooter incidents were resolved before the police arrived on scene. In 50% of those cases, the assailant committed suicide. It is noteworthy that in 31% of the cases that were resolved prior to the arrival of law enforcement, the assailant was subdued by others.
Rarely has law enforcement intervention stopped an active shooter. In the instances where police did arrive while shots were being fired, the shooter committed suicide in 30%of the cases. Was their final act as a result of police intervention or had they accomplished their agenda?
Suicide is one of the primary motivations of mass killers. In a study conducted by the Secret Service, most of the shooters have little expectation of surviving their rampage. Their intent is to kill as many as possible. The presence or arrival of police has little consequence for an active shooter, who is committed to ending their own life.
The Columbine killers engaged a police officer as they entered the school. They had always planned to kill themselves. Seung Hui Cho was not deterred by the heightened state of alert by the Virginia Tech area law enforcement. Despite a quick three-minute response time, entry of responding officers were delayed by doors chained closed and thirty students were executed.
The FBI Active Shooters study determined that 69% of the incidents ended in 5 minutes or less, and 23 incidents ended in 2 minutes or less. Shooter Detection Systems President Christian Connors said his company’s technology could cost anywhere from $20,000 to $100,000, depending on the size and structure of the building. The cost effectiveness of this active shooter system must be evaluated especially if the school has a dedicated school resource officer who will be quickly responding to shots fired.
According to National School Safety and Security Services, there have been 120 prevented school attacks between 2000 and 2010. This statistic is undoubtedly underreported as many schools have focused on student behavioral threat assessments of students who are displaying concerning behaviors. Early intervention is often not reported.
English teachers are no longer dismissing violent and disturbed writings, and students are more frequently reporting threats to parents and authorities. Proactive mental health counseling has also helped to alleviate violence.
In December of 2013, Attorney General Eric Holder addressed a gathering of law enforcement professionals and spoke of the positive attributes of utilizing a behavioral threat assessment approach to preventing targeted violence. The FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit has assisted state and local agencies to identify potential offenders with the goal of preventing violent crimes including mass shootings and school violence.
According to the Attorney General, the FBI’s Behavioral Threat Assessment Center has prevented 148 shootings and violent attacks from January through November of 2013. Those interdictions have increased 33% from 2012 according to Unit Chief Andre Simmons, who spoke with the Associated Press.
In less than five minutes, Adam Lanza entered Sandy Hook Elementary and murdered 27 innocent victims. In 1.8 seconds, John Hinkley fired 6 rounds and struck four people including President Reagan. In less than ninety seconds, Karl Pierson, the Arapahoe High School shooter had killed one person and taken his own life. A school resource officer arrived at the library after Pierson had committed suicide. In a matter of seconds, Jaylen Fryberg opened fire in the Marysville-Pilchuck High School cafeteria killing four before taking his own life while a teacher attempted to intervene. The school resource officer was on scene moments after the shooting concluded.
Used in an urban high crime environment, this system has tremendous advantages. In a school environment, the system may provide another layer of reactive security, but the cost effectiveness is limited. The former SEALs who provide the accompanying active shooter response training with the system are some of the most proficient tactical practitioners in the world and their insight cannot be overstated.
School districts which are under budget constraints must analyze and carefully weigh the cost effectiveness of security protocols and measures employed. The cost for some technology could be better spent on hiring a mental health counselor who has received adequate training in conducting threat assessments and increased training for school personnel to identify the warning signs for troubled students and employees. Early intervention is the best means of mitigating potential school violence through the use of behavioral threat assessments. When police are reacting to the alarms of gunfire at a school, it is too late.
Mike Roche has spent over three decades in law enforcement. He began his career in 1989 with the Little Rock Police Department. He retired from the U.S. Secret Service after 22 years. In addition to being a liaison to the CIA and FBI, he was also assigned to the JTTF. He is a former adjunct instructor at St. Leo University teaching Behavioral Threat Assessments of Mass Killers and is currently teaching the same course for the Alpha Group. He is the author of nonfiction works, Mass Killers: How You Can Identify Workplace, School and Public Killers Before They Strike and also Face 2 Face: Observation, Interviewing and Rapport Building Skills: an Ex-Secret Service Agent’s Guide. He is also the author of three works of crime fiction.