4 minute read
August 27, 2018

Concerning Behaviors & Bystanders: FBI Active Shooter Study - Phase II

Concerning Behaviors & Bystanders: FBI Active Shooter Study - Phase II

This summer the FBI released Phase II of it’s active shooter study. This study provides insights into what is happening with individuals before they go on to engage in acts of mass casualty violence. Here are some excerpts from the report:

In 2017 there were 30 separate active shootings in the United States, the largest number ever recorded by the FBI during a one-year period.1 With so many attacks occurring, it can become easy to believe that nothing can stop an active shooter determined to commit violence. “The offender just snapped” and “There’s no way that anyone could have seen this coming” are common reactions that can fuel a collective sense of a “new normal,” one punctuated by a sense of hopelessness and helplessness. Faced with so many tragedies, society routinely wrestles with a fundamental question: can anything be done to prevent attacks on our loved ones, our children, our schools, our churches, concerts, and communities?

The Targeted Violence Prevention Program at the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority was established to promote prevention and early intervention programs aimed at targeted violence of all forms. Our work is predicated on the belief that using a public health approach which utilizes knowledge garnered over 30 years of study by the Centers for Disease Control on violence prevention broadly and the threat assessment model pioneered by the United States Secret Service in the 1990s, communities can prevent targeted violence.

The Phase II study report notes the following:

There is cause for hope because there is something that can be done. In the weeks and months before an attack, many active shooters engage in behaviors that may signal impending violence. While some of these behaviors are intentionally concealed, others are observable and — if recognized and reported — may lead to a disruption prior to an attack. Unfortunately, well-meaning bystanders (often friends and family members of the active shooter) may struggle to appropriately categorize the observed behavior as malevolent. They may even resist taking action to report for fear of erroneously labeling a friend or family member as a potential killer. Once reported to law enforcement, those in authority may also struggle to decide how best to assess and intervene, particularly if no crime has yet been committed.

The study’s authors, Dr. James Silver, FBI Supervisory Special Agent Andre Simons, and Dr. Sarah Craun note clearly that the study is descriptive only and the information gleaned and shared in this report does not provide information that can be used to predict violence. The report “cautions readers to not treat the observed behaviors as having predictive value in determining if a person will become violent or not, as the findings and observations presented herein are not a “checklist” but instead are offered to promote awareness among potential bystanders and for consideration in the context of a thorough, holistic threat assessment by trained professionals.”

The report concludes with an observation that echos the ICJIA TVPP message:

The information contained in this Phase II report can be utilized by myriad safety stakeholders. The successful prevention of an active shooting frequently depends on the collective and collaborative engagement of varied community members: law enforcement officials, teachers, mental health care professionals, family members, threat assessment professionals, friends, social workers, school resource officers…and many others. A shared awareness of the common observable behaviors demonstrated by the active shooters in this study may help to prompt inquiries and focus assessments at every level of contact and every stage of intervention.

The insights provided by the Phase II study can be used in pilot programs aimed at preventing targeted violence. Existing evidence-based programs addressing prevention of bullying, sexual assault, gang violence, and suicide can serve as templates for such pilot programs. Such efforts must be undertaken ethically and with a paramount concern for the civil rights and confidentiality of the people they intend to serve. Done right, and with planned evaluations of such pilot programs, these efforts may lead to targeted violence specific programs that are shown to work.

To read the report click here.

The impetus for prevention must come from the local community. Contact ICJIA TVPP if your local community would like to host a public forum to learn about and discuss the FBI Active Shooter Study - Phase II.

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