By Jim Gaffney.
On Thursday, Aaron R. Ybarra, 26, fired at students on the Seattle Pacific University campus, killing one student and wounding at least three others. A student school monitor sprayed Ybarra with pepper spray. With the assistance of fellow students, Ybarra was subdued as he paused to reload his shotgun. Some people ran, some hid, and a few saved lives by choosing to fight. As is the norm, this ASI was over prior to the arrival of the police.
This latest Active Shooter Incident (ASI) reaffirms what is already known. During a violent encounter, the person who goes first is highly likely to win. This is the very reason law enforcement must focus on intervention to stop the killing before it begins.
The heroics of those who overcame the Active Shorter (AS) in this incident and previous ASIs cannot be underscored. The actives of those nearby the shooter stopped the incident soon after it began. The price paid is 1 dead and three hospitalized. It’s time to intervene before anybody is injured or killed.
In March, 2014 participants at the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) Active Shooter conference published a report of what needs to be done to prevent an ASI. PERF noted although most active shooters are mentally ill, this is not the causative factor resulting in an ASI. Only a small percentage of people with mental illness become violent. I agree, in addressing overcoming an ASI, law enforcement cannot become involved in stereotyping.
The recent Santa Barbara ASI reinforced once again, individuals closest to a potential AS are in a position of recognizing a potential ASI before the incident begins. The public must be made to understand it plays a key role is preventing ASIs. There is a possibility these incidents can be stopped before there is any loss of life or injury if the police are provided information.
Evaluating and determining the mental instability of a person not overtly an immediate threat to himself and/or others is not the police’s responsibility. The justification and authorization for medical intervention in such cases falls squarely on the shoulders of the mental health professionals.
A police officer can initiate an arrest based on probable cause if an individual is planning and/or preparing to implement an ASI. The Santa Barbara ASI clearly demonstrated the value of a mental health professional coordinating with the police to protect a potential AS from himself and his innocent targets. Stopping potential ASIs is coming down to how well can mental health professionals and the law enforcement community join together. There is one common goal. Save lives by preventing an ASI before it begins.
The primary dilemma is that a mental health professional is concerned with privacy issues protected under the doctor/client privilege while the police are focused on public safety issues without violating civil rights. Public safety cannot be compromised when a mental health professional deems an individual dangerous to himself or others. The Supreme Court (USSC) case of O’Conner v Donaldson is the landmark decision in addressing mental illness.
In O’Connor, the USSC ruled a state cannot constitutionally confine a non-dangerous individual who is capable of surviving safely in freedom by themselves or with the help of willing and responsible family members or friends. O’Connor is the guiding light demonstrative of the role of the mental health professionals in coordinating with the police when circumstances require involuntary commitment of an individual for observation.
The eyes and ears of the department in overcoming an ASI before it begins is the public. The members of the public have a direct link to the police and in certain instances with a mental health professional. A potential AS goes through changes as he is planning and readying his plan of attack. The changes are warning signs. The cues are visible, verbal, written and/or a combination of each. Family members, neighbors, co-workers, friends, school and medical personnel, must recognize the warning signs rather than rely on the police to respond after the ASI begins.
PERF also noted recent statistics indicate more than 50 percent of ASs make their intentions known prior to the incident. The AS will do so in a direct or indirect manner. Elliot Rodger indirectly made his intentions known on YouTube. This led a welfare check. Rodger then turned to YouTube once again. The night before he implemented his plan of attack, Rodger directly informed about his intentions via social media. This information was not provided to the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department.
PERF reinforced intervention is possible by the sharing of information. It was emphasized good police work in verifying and overcoming a threat is the road to be traveled when the opportunity presents itself. A creditable tip enables the police to seek information from neighbors, co-workers, or whoever might have valuable information.
The creation of an early detection system when an individual is of concern is highly plausible in a school setting. Incidents such as Jared Loughner (Gabby Gifford) and James Holmes (Aurora) have reinforced that school administrators cannot take the position that following an initial intervention there is nothing further which needs to be done.
Jared Loughner was found to be dangerous to himself and others by Pima Community College. The college banned him from returning to school until he was cleared medically to come back. The local police were never notified about the concerns the school had prior to the shooting of Gabby Gifford. Six people were killed and 13 wounded by Loughner.
James Holmes attended the University of Colorado. It was learned after-the-fact; Holmes’ psychiatrist feared him and did notify the school and the campus police of her concerns. It appears that the University did not consider Holmes’ mental instability its responsibility to address because he withdrew from school. Holmes killed 12 people and wounded 59 prior to surrendering to the police without incident.
As much as we discuss ASIs reoccurring at schools, it is the workplace where the highest percentage of ASIs have occurred. It must be recognized whether in a school setting, the workplace or a public setting, an ASI can be prevented with the help of the citizens.
The tools to prevent the next ASI from occurring are in place. On January 16, 2013 President Obama’s report, “Now Is the Time,” outlined his plans to ensure that federal laws are not interpreted as preventing efforts by medical professionals and police to respond to threats of violence. “We should never ask doctors and other health care providers to turn a blind eye to the risks posed by guns in the wrong hands,” the President’s report said.
The door is open to introduce intervention to prevent an ASI along with concepts such as Run, Hide, and Fight in conjunction with lockdown procedures to diminish the loss of life in conjunction with response protocols to terminate an AS engaged is “actively killing” people.
Originally posted at Law Enforcement Today.
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.