Threat Assessment of the Active Killer
In light of recent violent attacks, such as the December 5, 2019 NAS Pensacola fatal shooting, in which an attacker killed three people and injured eight others, and the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard fatal shooting, where a sailor killed two civilian workers, the U.S. the Navy and Marine Corps are conducting a broad review of security measures to review insider threat protocol and training.
These violent attacks have forced schools, enterprises, government agencies and other organizations to prepare for any violent threats that may occur. What do security professionals, in charge of protecting and responding to threats of violence in their workplace, need to know in order to conduct a thorough and accurate threat assessment and develop a workable response plan?
On December 17, 2019, Tom M. Conley, CPP, CISM, CMAS, President and CEO of The Conley Group, Inc. of Des Moines, Iowa, that provides security services, security patrol services and alarm response service to their clients, led a Security magazine webinar, Conducting a Workplace Violence Threat Analysis and Developing a Response Plan. The webinar examines how to best complete a thorough threat assessment, true foundation strategies to prevent an active killer event, and maintaining strong and vibrant public-private relationships to advance an organization’s workplace violence threat.
Here, we’ll explore lessons learned from the webinar and examine how to implement a threat assessment team that will help security professionals be ready when they are called upon to conduct a threat assessment of potential insider threats and provide the best recommendations possible to their organization’s leadership.
Lesson 1: Defining an Active Killer
Before defining an active killer, it’s important to note that during the past 25 years, there’s been an uptick in workplace violence attacks. Recent data compiled by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University shows that there were more mass killings in 2019 than any year dating back to at least the 1970s. In all, there were 41 mass killings, defined as when four or more people are killed excluding the perpetrator. Of those, 33 were mass shootings. More than 210 people were killed.
What is an active killer? Conley defines an active killer as a suspect or assailant whose activity is immediately causing death and serious bodily injury. It’s important to understand that death or serious bodily injury can come from anything that can be used as a weapon or no weapon at all, says Conley. “Think about anything that can be used to hurt others. Bodybuilders, for instance, can use their bodies to inflict pain on others due to their physical makeup,” he says.
According to Conley, the active killer is considered the greatest human threat in the security business, on school campuses and within our communities. However, it wasn’t until after the Columbine High School mass shooting, in which two teens went on a shooting spree on April 20, 1999, killing 13 people and wounding more than 20 others before committing suicide, that patrol deputies and officers had specialized training for patrol to respond to active threats, says Conley.
Before Columbine, police arrived, set up a perimeter and called S.W.A.T, patrol deputies and officers had very limited firepower and no specialized training on responding to insider threats, which was a major security problem, Conley notes.
What does this mean for security? After Columbine, agencies reevaluated response to “Active Shooter” situations, first unit(s) on scene engaged the suspect, and two, three and four-office teams were implemented throughout the U.S.
Law enforcement protocol has evolved as well, as departments instruct officers to secure the immediate area and assess the danger. The goal now is to locate, contain and stop the shooter. Once officers and deputies find the suspect, they either disarm him/her or terminate the threat.
Lesson 2: The Mentality of an Active Killer
Knowing the mentality of an active assailant is key, and includes understanding that the active killer’s goal is not to escape, but rather to kill as many people as possible, says Conley. Other factors include:
- A desire to kill without concern for their safety or threat of capture.
- Normally has intended victims and will search them out.
- Accepts targets of opportunity while searching for or after finding intended targets.
- Has a victim mentality.
- Will continue to move throughout a building or are until stopped by law enforcement, suicide or other intervention. This has necessitated a change in tactics by law enforcement. Studies showed that the mere presence of armed security or law enforcement has prevented an active shooter incident, notes Conley.
To counterattack killers, intended to kill and injure, and losses, community preparedness training and response during an actual event is needed. Having some forethought can help prepare community members and security professionals if the need arises, as well, Conley says.
According to Conley, for a crime to occur, a crime trifecta is necessary: means, motive and opportunity. These refer to:
- The ability of the defendant to commit the crime (means)
- The reason the defendant committed the crime (motive)
- Whether the defendant had the chance to commit the crime (opportunity)
The prime conditions for crime to occur need, as well, a suitable target, a likely offender and a suitable environment. “If you remove any of these conditions, the likelihood of a crime significantly reduces,” says Conley.
Lesson 3: Truths About Security Protection
Finally, Conley contends that there are some absolute truths about security protection:
- Implementing adequate security measures before an incident occurs is the only chance for real success.
- Proper preparedness is crucial. People never “rise to the occasion” in a crisis. Rather, they dip to a basic level of preparedness.
- The only way to do risk management is to conduct a survey and then mitigate the risks identified in the survey in an adequate level, notes Conley.
In addition, knowing procedures for emergency response is critical. “First, understand that your actions will influence others,” he says. “Panic and calm are contagious, so stay calm. Lastly, assure others that you and the police are working closely to resolve the issue.”
Maintaining good safety and security is only achieved through the combination of acquiring a “warrior spirit,” proper planning, leveraging tools that are available and maintaining situational awareness at all times, Conley says. That being said, when reporting suspicious activity to law enforcement, Conley notes that security professionals should always maintain situational awareness and report:
- Specific location
- Number of victims
- Number of suspects
- Description of suspects
- Clothing color and style
- Physical features
- Type of weapon(s)
- Do you recognize the shooter(s)?
- What are their name(s)?
It’s important to note that we can no longer predict the origin of the next threat. Assailants in some recent incidents across the country were not students or employees, and there were no obvious specific targets and the victims were unaware they were targets until attacked, Conley says.