One thing criminal justice experts understand about Active Shooter Incidents (ASI) is that such tragedies will not fade away on their own. An ASI will reappear from time to time in a host of situations unless citizens, school or workplace authorities make an effort to forewarn law enforcement officials. Past incidents make it clear that, more often than not, questionable conduct of a potential active shooter is not brought law enforcement’s attention.  Such information tends to go unreported. Most often law enforcement is called upon after the shooting begins.

 The role of first responders is important.  First responders are efficient, effective, professional, and continually evolve with changing times. However, law enforcement can do much more in addressing Active Shooters if given the opportunity.  All members of society must take the lead in providing reliable information to local law enforcement agencies. Law enforcement officials depend upon information being brought to their attention for evaluation and follow up before the shooting begins.

Society must do more to assist law enforcement. The Active Shooter can be defeated before the shooting begins if citizens are proactive in informing the police about questionable behavior.  Terrorism has been addressed in the same way; “If you see something, say something.”

No one will lose their civil liberties guaranteed under the Bill of Rights.  At the same time, members of the public providing information about possible Active Shooters to the police will ensure that others will not lose their right to live. Society must take an active role in providing law enforcement the appropriate information to initiate a proactive rather than a reactive approach. Let’s stop the killing before it begins.

A 2002 study by the Secret Service and the 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.

With this information in mind, consider what happened recently at a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado, a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and at a private residence in College Town, Texas, near Texas A&M University. Furthermore, consider what did not happen in Maryland shortly after the Aurora Massacre.  Alert Pitney-Bowes employees alerted local law enforcement about a troubled employee.  Armed with a search warrant, police entered his residence, preventing a tragedy.

The former employee suggested that he planned to kill his supervisor and office workers. The police overwhelmed this individual before one round was fired. Valid information from civilians established probable cause for the execution of a search warrant of the suspect’s residence. The police believed he was a potential Active Shooter. A search of the residence led to the discovery of a stockpile of weapons. This individual was in possession of the weapons to carry out his threat. The police cannot accomplish such tasks without the cooperation of the public.

In past LET articles, I have addressed the importance of understanding the Five Phases of an Active Shooter.   This topic has become important to me following my thesis, which examined the Victim-Offender Overlap. I had the opportunity to compare two study groups over a two-year period. My findings were that every criminal offender took on a life of offending because he grew tired of perceiving himself as a victim. All the subjects of my study were victims of crime and lived within a world of criminality. Conversely, Active Shooters tend to have no criminal history, and their victimization is perceived within primarily either a school setting or the work environment. An Active Shooter incident is a solution to the perception of victim hood.

A few years ago, my interest in preventing Active Shooter Incidents led to a dinner conversation with Lt. Dan Marcou, an expert in the Active Shooter phenomena.  Lt. Marcou developed the theory of the Five Stages of the Active Shooter.  He and I discussed the role of the first responder and his experience responding to a 2004 ASI in Oak Creek Wisconsin.  Strangely, this was the same location as the recent Sikh Temple shooting. Lt. Marcou’s courage in that situation earned him the SWAT Officer of the Year designation. Lt. Marcou has written several books and provides presentations regarding his theory throughout the United States.

The Five Stages of the Active Shooter are:

Fantasy Stage

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 AS is crying out for help. If police are notified, assistance may be provided without incident.

The following incidents have occurred:

Virginia Tech Shooting – A panel was convened to review the circumstances leading up to the shooting. The finding of the study accuses the university of a systemic failure to respond to Seung-Hui Cho’s two-year history of mental health troubles on campus or to communicate effectively as Seung-Hui Cho, murdered 32 students and faculty before turning a gun on himself.

Gabby Gifford Shooting – Jared Loughner was suspended from Pima Community College. He was believed to be a danger to others. Loughner appeared to be mentally ill or under the influence of drugs. Police documents released by the college indicated various instructors, students and others described Mr. Loughner as “creepy,” “very hostile,” “suspicious” and someone who had a “dark personality.”

Loughner was not permitted to return to the school until he could provide documentation by a mental health expert that he was not a threat to others. Pima Community College acted appropriately to safeguard the school from Loughner’s bizarre behavior.  However, PCC authorities failed to notify local law enforcement this individual was considered a risk to others. Soon thereafter, Representative Gabrielle Gifford was shot in the head when Loughner opened fire outside a grocery store during a constituent’s meeting, killing 6 people and wounding 13 others.

Planning Stage

The shooter’s thoughts are replaced by action at this stage. He is making decisions about targets, activities, as the when, where, and how are being coordinated. An individual planning an ASI may research topics on a computer or even write and publish a manifesto authorizing death warrants.

The Aurora Colorado shooter created such a manifesto, which was discovered in the University of Colorado Mailroom shortly after the tragedy. Reportedly, the shooter provided information and diagrams regarding his intentions.

Intervention at this stage brings all activity to a stop. The circumstances will dictate if medical treatment or legal action is required to address the situation at this stage, if law enforcement is given an opportunity to intervene.

Preparation Stage

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. An alert range master, ammunition dealer, or other vendors may be key in identifying a potential active shooter at this state.  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.

Approach Stage

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.

Implementation Stage

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.

The Active Shooter phenomena will not be defeated without education of law enforcement, workplace, and school personnel.  Law Enforcement Today and Iona College of New Rochelle, New York will co-host two speaking engagements by Lt. Dan Marcou, an expert in the Active Shooter, on January 10, 2013. Lt. Marcou will address how understanding and identifying the Five Phases of the Active Shooter provides a proactive approach in defeating such incidents. More information will be provided soon about how to register for this critically-important conference.

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, PIO, and executive officer. He is a member of ILEETA, IACP, and the IACSP.   Jim received the Medal of Honor upon graduating from Iona College.  He then completed a two year study evaluating the Victim-Offender Overlap. Jim graduated Magna Cum Laude upon receiving his Master of Science in Public Administration. Jim mentors the next generation of LEOs by teaching university-level criminal justice courses as an adjunct professor in the New York City area.

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