On Tuesday, the Birmingham Police Department responded to an UPS facility on a report of an Active Shooter Incident (ASI). Upon arrival officers found three people dead. It was later learned Brian Callans, 46, and Doug Hutcheson, 33, were murdered in Callans’ office by Joe Tensey, 45, who then turned his weapon on himself. This ASI ended prior to the prompt arrival of the police.
The professional response by the Birmingham Police Department reinforces the growing understanding that a response-only approach in overcoming an ASI is not efficient and effective. An Active Shooter (AS) plans to implement his rampage to steal the lives of others prior to the arrival of law enforcement. The AS plans to implement his attack to circumvent the law enforcement’s response. A completed ASI results in a needless loss of life. ASIs need to be stopped before they begin whenever possible.
The concepts of intervention and response must be utilized to address an ASI. Time is only an ally if law enforcement has the time to investigate a potential AS before the shooter is prepared to implement his attack. Intervention needs to be a standardized practice in overcoming an ASI as law enforcement is at the ready to respond if called upon. The members of the community are the eyes and ears of the department in identifying a potential AS.
Individuals closest to a potential AS, whether it be in the workplace, our schools, or a public setting see and hear things the police do not due to their interaction with a potential AS. The eyes and ears of the police to overcome an ASI clearly are the family, friends, doctors, mental health professionals, teachers, and counselors who notice changes in one’s personality. An individual who demonstrates a change of character and continually is focused on harm to others and/or himself cannot be ignored. The police need to be provided this information by the community to intervene before the AS is prepared to act!
The circumstances suggest Tensey perceived himself to be a victim in the workplace. Tensey made his unhappiness in the workplace known to his, pastor, Bill Wilks of the North Park Baptist Church. Wilks described Tesney as being “troubled” over his work and financial situation. Wilks did not suggest Tensey intended to act out against others. It appears Tensey’s thinking changed on Monday when he received a notification from UPS, by mail he was terminated.
An AS first plans his attack when he is tired of being the victim. It’s important to remember the victimization need not be real. It can be a perception. Herein lies the greatest danger. One’s perceptions based on feelings and emotions overrides one’s logic and reason in the mind of an AS.
Tensey arrived at UPS in uniform to send a message to his supervisors. Tired of being the victim he was now in control. Once he killed his targets Tensey completed his final act by taking his own life. This trend is growing. An AS is more likely to take his own life than die in a firefight with the police. My analysis is that the AS is in control and once he completes his goals, as was done in Birmingham on Tuesday, the final act is to take his own life rather than have another take it from him. An AS does not plan to go home at the end of the day. There is no tomorrow.
The Birmingham Police are now in the process of determining the facts and circumstances which led to this incident. This is another downside of a response approach. The police become focused on obtaining information, facts, and evidence to learn why this incident occurred. Why is the great unknown. The police try to make sense out of a senseless act by putting the pieces of the case together after-the-fact. All law enforcement agencies would welcome the opportunity to determine whether or not a legitimate threat is present before an ASI occurs.
The greatest tool in overcoming an ASI is information provided by the public to the police. Information is provided is there exists an open line of communication between the police and the community each police officer has sworn an oath to protect and serve. The police can best protect the community by intervention rather than response. As the law enforcement community is now considering accepting intervention along with response protocols there are hurtles to be cleared in the courtroom.
Neil Prescott, just one week after Colorado’s mass shooting at a Batman movie premiere was arrested on misdemeanor charges after telephoning Pitney-Bowes, referring to himself as “a joker” and threatening to shoot up the workplace. Police said they found large quantities of ammunition and about two dozen weapons, including semi-automatic rifles and pistols, in his Prescott’s apartment. The Prince George County Police considered Prescott to be armed, dangerous and capable of carrying out a mass shooting had it not intervened.
Unfortunately, Prince George’s County District Court Judge Patrice Lewis dismissed the charges against Prescott. The judge agreed with a defense lawyer’s argument that the court documents charging Neil Prescott are “defective” and unfairly vague in describing the allegations.
Prescott was only charged with misdemeanor misuse of a telephone because prosecutors lacked evidence to charge him with a felony. Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks office issued a press release which noted that “Maryland was one of only 7 states that does not have a statute dealing with threats of mass violence or terrorism.”
Unfortunately, change is slow. The law enforcement community must introduce intervention along with response to have two approaches in addressing an ASI. All of the states need legislation to back the efforts of the police and protect its citizens in the courtroom.
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Jim Gaffney, MPA is Law Enforcement Today’s risk management /police administration contributor. He has served with a metro-New York police department for over 30 years in varying capacities, culminating with Executive Officer and PIO. He is a member of (ILEETA), (IACP), and the nationally recognized FBI- LEEDA. Jim is a Certified Force Science Analyst. He mentors law enforcement’s next generation as an adjunct criminal justice professor in the New York City area. Jim brings the street into the classroom to prepare students today for their roles as police officers tomorrow. He is CEO of Bright Line Consulting and can be reached via www.brightlinepoliceconsulting.com