By Yousry “Yost” Zakhary
hen I reflect back upon 2013, I think of how this year has been particularly devastating when it comes to active shooter incidents and violent attacks. These incidents are on the rise, and even more alarming, they seem to be getting more deadly. Active shooters seek out places of mass gatherings—our schools, shopping malls, airports, and movie theaters—with the goal of having a large and fatal impact. That is why it is imperative that your law enforcement agencies and communities are prepared with the knowledge they need to respond to and deter these events.
For those of you who attended the IACP 2013 Conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, you are aware that a central focus of the conference was on strategies to help prevent, deter, respond, and recover from these critical and tragic incidents. Working closely with key partners from the Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and chiefs of police who had firsthand experience dealing with these events, we conducted several workshops and panels on active shooter situations. Chief Michael Kehoe, Newtown Police Department, Connecticut; Chief Daniel Oates, Aurora Police Department, Colorado; and Chief Todd Evans, Fountain Police Department, Colorado, all shared their insights and recommendations on what agencies should do before and during an active shooter event.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder also spoke on this topic at the First General Assembly during IACP 2013. He highlighted the partnership between the FBI and the IACP to provide guidance to the first officers who arrive on the scenes of these crimes. Attorney General Holder elaborated on how the DOJ is placing increased emphasis on evaluating threats and certain individuals, in order to disrupt planned shootings and other violent attacks.
Tragically, even as the attorney general was delivering his remarks, the United States was being shocked by yet another active shooter incident at the Sparks Middle School in Nevada. Attorney General Holder noted that “between 2000 and 2008, the United States experienced an average of approximately five active shooter incidents every year.” He went on to state that “since 2009, this annual average has tripled, and we have already seen at least 12 active shooter situations so far in 2013.” Sadly, those statistics have quickly become outdated. In addition to the Nevada shooting, the nation has already experienced two more active shooter incidents: the Garden State Plaza mall shooting and the devastating incident at LAX airport, bringing our current total to at least 15 incidents in 2013.
Although each one of these incidents is unique and the response and methods may vary, it is imperative that we work together to share lessons learned and develop an aggressive national response and prevention model that will allow law enforcement agencies to prevent or mitigate the horror of active shooter situations.
To that end, the IACP National Law Enforcement Policy Center, in cooperation with the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), is in the process of developing a Model Policy on Active Shooters. The Model Policy will build upon the lessons learned from previous active shooting incidents, such as those at Columbine High School, Sandy Hook Elementary School, and the Aurora, Colorado, theater, and provide protocols for assessing the threat and performing rapid intervention tactics to limit serious injury or loss of life during situations where there is an active, ongoing deadly threat.
The Model Policy will address the fact that active shooters inflict casualties in rapid order, generally before officers or other emergency responders can even be summoned. In spite of this disadvantage, it has been recognized that even one or two armed officers can make a difference in the outcome of active shootings by taking swift but calculated individual or coordinated action. For example, during the Fort Hood, Texas, shooting, two officers in close proximity to the incident took immediate action that successfully stopped the threat. Given these and similar incidents, current thinking reemphasizes that, given proper justification as defined by law and departmental policy, taking immediate action during active shooter incidents, rather than waiting for specially equipped and trained officers, can save lives and prevent serious injuries. This policy emphasizes the fact that time lost by delayed action is likely to result in additional casualties. The IACP recommends that all officers receive active shooter training and consider training with the surrounding area first responders. We anticipate the release of the Model Policy on Active Shooter in the coming months, and I recommend you visit the IACP’s National Law Enforcement Policy Center webpage for more information at www.theiacp.org/policycenter.
The IACP stands ready to help. As we and our federal partners continue our work in this area, we want to make sure that you and your agencies are aware of the tools, training, and guidance that are already in place to help you respond to active shooter incidents and other critical threats. These include the following:
IACP’s Guide for Preventing and Responding to School Violence: This guide was prepared in cooperation with the BJA, and provides a number of strategies and approaches for creating safer schools. In particular the report focuses on steps that law enforcement, teachers, administrators, parents, students, and the community can take to prevent school violence. In addition, the report details critical recommendations related to threat assessment, crisis planning, and response during and after an incident. A copy of the report can be found at http://www.theiacp.org/Portals/0/pdfs/schoolviolence2.pdf.
Joint Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Portal: DHS, in partnership with the FBI and the IACP, launched a Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Training Resource web portal on the Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN). The purpose is to provide federal, state, local, tribal, territorial, and correctional law enforcement with the most current CVE training materials, case studies, analytic products, and other resources. The portal is restricted to law enforcement training only; to request access, email CVEPortal@HQ.DHS.gov.
DHS Active Shooter Program: This program provides guidance for active shooter incidents. Available to both public and private sector employees, the DHS Active Shooter Program focuses on how to prevent and respond to active shooter situations. The program consists of a combination of in-person seminars, online training, an archived webinar viewable online at any time, and various pocket resources. More information can be found at http://www.dhs.gov/active-shooter-preparedness.
DHS/FBI Joint Intelligence Bulletin: Recent Active Shooter Incidents Highlight Need for Continued Vigilance: The bulletin outlines some of the most common characteristics of active shooters identified between 2002 and 2012. This document is intended to help assist private sector security officials and federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial law enforcement in identifying protective and supportive measures relating to active shooters. A copy of the Joint Intelligence Bulletin can be accessed at http://info.publicintelligence.net/DHS-FBI-ActiveShooters.pdf.
FBI’s Behavioral Threat Assessment Center (BTAC): The BTAC works daily with local law enforcement and others to assess individuals who may potentially be a threat and on the path to commit an act of violence.
The IACP will continue to work to create innovative best practices and model strategies for responding to gun violence of all kinds, particularly mass casualty shootings. These cowardly criminals often seek out the most defenseless targets: our children, the elderly, malls, and schools. The IACP wants to make sure that first responders are armed with the tools they need in order to safeguard the citizens and communities we are sworn to protect. ♦
Please cite as:
Yousry “Yost” Zakhary, “Being Prepared for Active Shooter Incidents,” President’s Message, The Police Chief 80 (December 2013): 6–7.