What Is the Best Way to Stop an Active Shooter?

Unfortunately, our country continues to be plagued by tragedies caused by individuals with unregulated access to firearms. What compounds this serious issue is the deadly consequences created by a society that allows people without the legal authority or proper mental capacity to possess weapons. There is no silver bullet or panacea to stem the tide of these horrific events that are occurring all too often, but we can take steps to create a safer environment.

An all-inclusive approach that cuts to the heart of this problem and attacks the genesis of these events is required, rather than responding to the aftermath of the event itself. Instead of focusing most of our attention, energy, and efforts on what can be done to stop an active shooter during one of these attacks, let’s step back and try to determine what caused the incident in the first place.

It All Begins at the Beginning

Your goal should be to identify individuals before they have the means, mindset, and motive to carry out their violence. These events are not spontaneous—people don’t just “snap” and set out on a killing spree. Instead they are premeditated, planned, and if you look closely enough, announced. Having your organization supported by policy is the foundation to an Active Shooter Plan. You need to have the capability to identify, assess, and control anyone exhibiting traits that can be categorized as pre-attack indicators, which without intervention could manifest into violence.

Horizontally, Vertically, and Across an Organization

“Power in numbers” is another remedial action that results in a multi-disciplinary approach with select people up, down, and parallel in your organization, designated to prevent active shooter incidents. Individuals with diverse backgrounds, skill sets, and experience will come together and work collaboratively to design a plan to mitigate this threat. After forming a committee of representatives from entities such as management, law enforcement security, medical, mental health, fire, legal, HR, and training, this group will be charged with the mission to collectively develop a strategy and processes for preventing, controlling, and resolving an active shooter scenario.

Addressing Workplace Violence Protects Against an Active Shooter

Because an active shooter event is the most serious form of workplace violence, you must focus on mitigation and creating the processes that prevent any behavior deemed irregular or inappropriate from occurring. To be adequately prepared, you need to direct your attention to security, personnel, policies, procedures, systems, and physical measures. Examples are private guards (security), clinical health professionals (personnel), code of conduct (policies), employee assistance program (procedures), blast text messaging (systems), and lock-operated access points (physical measures). All of these disciplines contribute to the framework of the plan.

Signs, Signs, Everywhere a Sign

Because each situation is unique, knowing the signs to look for using professional judgment or outside assistance may be necessary to determine if intervention is necessary. Some of these signs are: disruptive behavior; physical injuries; absenteeism or tardiness; poor job performance; stalking a co-worker; inappropriate comments; threatening emails; and harassing phone calls. All of these signs could be an indication of a much more serious problem that may require identifying, assessing, and managing a potential violent situation.

Out With the Old and In With the New

The antiquated way to deal with a problem was to remove it. History has taught us that eliminating the source does not resolve the issue. It used to be that workplace managers fired, police officers arrested, and school principals expelled. None of these actions puts an end to the threat; they just delay it. Eventually, people get out of jail or return to the workplace or school to bring closure for themselves. Your best remedy is to have mechanisms that not only prevent, but also treat.

All of these recommended measures that I’ve presented have to be created, implemented, and when necessary, applied. Until then, a truly holistic program is not in place to protect your most valuable assets—your people—against the threat of an active shooter.

Escape From New York: When Life Imitates Art

Over three weeks ago, two convicted killers staged a movie-like escape from the Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York. The escape and the series of events that followed initiated a massive law enforcement response to track down these fugitive prisoners. Ultimately, good triumphed over evil and both men were caught, but unfortunately one lost his life in his efforts to elude the authorities. Recently our culture has made it fashionable to criticize law enforcement for a variety of perceived indiscretions. Candidly, some of this criticism is warranted, but what most people fail to realize is that a law enforcement officer is the first person they would turn to in a life or death situation. Much of what these professionals bring to each situation is the skill and experience to lead a complicated investigation that in this case ended with two extremely dangerous criminals taken off the streets and no longer posing a threat to society.

If I Wanted Your Opinion, I Would Ask For It

Initially, the only “capturing” in this case had been done by the national media spotlight. As this entire drama played out, every talking head on every news talk radio and television medium did not hesitate to offer up his or her unsolicited and unfounded opinion. Interestingly, the (uneducated) media and the (unknowing) public characterized this incident as a manhunt; however, to the trained law enforcement and security professional, this is more accurately described as a multi-jurisdictional criminal investigation. Yes, a manhunt or search was involved, and this process garnered most of the attention. But behind the scenes, the men and women overseeing and steering the investigation did the real yeoman’s work. These unheralded professionals constructed the investigative strategy to tighten the noose and turn up the heat as the search area shrunk. Now that this investigation is over, a new investigation begins—to determine how they escaped and, more importantly, who helped them escape. Two prison employees are already in custody, and more may follow.

If I Could Turn Back Time

Working backwards, one of the latest pieces of evidence uncovered in the case were the discovery of a fugitive’s fingerprints along with prison-issued garments inside a burglarized cabin. This event helped pinpoint and downsize the scope and scale of the investigation. Prior to this development, sightings as far as 400 miles away near the Pennsylvania border were reported. Another major break in the case was the arrest of two possible accomplices who worked at the correctional facility. One person is a guard at the prison accused of smuggling in tools. Allegedly the other individual had sexual relationships with both fugitives and planned to provide the getaway car only to change her mind at the last minute. All of this pertinent information set the stage for what had become an exhaustive large-scale investigation.

Separating Fact from Fiction  

The police followed up on more than 2,000 leads, and as more clues continued to surface, they obviously confirmed some of these tips in order to separate fact from fiction. Every investigation features multiple facets that will hopefully and eventually lead to an arrest. An investigator’s role is multi-purpose: a case needs to be built; responsible parties identified, whether directly or indirectly involved; proof (e.g., evidence) compiled; and credibility (e.g., fact) separated from speculation (e.g., fiction). A critical piece of evidence such as fingerprints (e.g., DNA) or forensic evidence is considered extremely reliable in an investigation because it is difficult to question. Other evidence such as an eyewitness account is categorized as testimony (e.g., oral or written statements), which is admissible in a judicial or administrative proceeding, but subject to the scrutiny of a defense attorney.

The Devil Is in the Details

In order to catch these men, investigators did more than saturate an area with searchers. They spent a painstaking amount of time sifting through information and crafting a strategy and tactical plan to allocate and implement the resources required to apprehend these criminals. “Leaving no stone unturned” is the best cliché I can think of when it comes to the investigative methodology used for this situation. According to a spokesperson, the authorities were looking “behind every tree, under every rock and inside every structure.” This investigation implemented numerous techniques such as reviewing hotel registries to identify alias names, interviewing anyone who may have had contact with the fugitives, going door to door to check on homes and seasonal residences, and conducting vehicle searches at police checkpoints.

Playing from the Same Sheet of Music   

These methods and findings are not happenstance or spontaneous. Instead they are all part of a holistic investigative approach synchronized between multiple private, state, local, and federal partners. The seamless integration between these different entities and jurisdictions is the hallmark of a complex criminal investigation coordinated and controlled by experienced and professional investigators. The sharing of information, scrubbing of intelligence, and designed actions are carefully vetted and approved by authorized decision makers entrusted with this responsibility by their respective organizations. This investigation was a collaboration between different skill sets and backgrounds that resulted in the implementation of the very best tactics and processes. The final outcome of these efforts was not whether these inmates would be caught, but when they would be caught.  After the smoke cleared and the dust settled, these investigators did their jobs, the investigation resulted in arrests, and peace of mind was restored to the area.

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