Virginia Tech Revisited

Defeating the Active Shooter Before He Begins

As I write this article, the news media is providing an influx of information about the Virginia Tech active shooter incident.  I would rather not focus on exactly what happened or how it happened. Ongoing reporting will provide analysis of these issues until the investigation is complete.   What we do know is that two people, a member of law enforcement and a civilian believed to be the shooter, are dead.

Officer Derek Crouse died following a traffic stop which appears to be unrelated to the shooting.  He was the father of five and a veteran of the armed forces.  LET mourns this terrible loss to the law enforcement family and to his loved ones.  Officer Crouse’s death occurred on the same day that Tech officials testified about the alleged mishandling of the first Tech massacre in 2007.

Sadly, this incident represents an historic moment.  This is the first time two separate shooter incidents have occurred on the grounds of the same campus since the birth of the “active shooter” scenario as we know it today.  Active shooters have been a sad fact of campus life since the Columbine High School massacre.   Students gathering Thursday evening in an impromptu candlelight vigil were located in front of the memorial to the first massacre’s victims.

The question before us is not about security or how to lock down students to protect them.  All indications are that Virginia Tech did a superb job in keeping students as safe as possible Thursday via text messaging updates and a swift police response.  Tech faculty and administration have learned to work more effectively with campus police.  Naturally these actions are necessary, but keep in mind this focus is a reaction to an event.

Information on the current incident is fluid.  Nevertheless, it is time for law enforcement and learning institutions to move from the reactive stance to a proactive mode.   Each needs to act together to defeat the active shooter before the first round is fired. Each needs to assist the other as one.   One common purpose exists: to keep our schools safe.

Lt. Dan Marcou has identified the Five Stages of the Active Shooter to assist law enforcement in understanding this phenomenon.  The first stage noted is the fantasy stage, when the potential active shooter begins to think about harming others and how he may do so.  We need to reach students long before the unthinkable even comes to their minds.

In order to understand my approach, take some time to reflect on another historic moment.  Reconsider the events of September 11, 2001. The casualties we experienced that day opened up the lines of communication among the various law enforcement agencies to act together as one. Each now cooperates on a local, county, state, and federal level far more effectively.  We have the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that there is not a repeat of what happened to America that day.

Now we need to take the same action to secure our schools before the active shooter becomes active.

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