It seems like every year we are talking about active threat/shooter responses by police. Unfortunately, there's more to talk about now becuase these incidents are happening more frequently and at greater risk to the officers and the communities they serve. These tragedies have led to learning opportunities. The staff at the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) recently completed a study titled; "The Police Response to Active Shooter Incidents,"containing significant statistics that should shape how officers are trained in responding to an active threat situation.

Since the 1999 Columbine school shootings, every officer knows that you can't just stand by and let an attacker claim more victims. I've been on the job for about 29 years and never had to respond to an active threat/shooter. I am thankfully in the majority. But I also know that it is pure coincidence that I have not. I know that my chances of responding to such a catastrophic incident are no greater or less than any other officer. So, until I retire, I have to think about it, train for it, and be ready. The PERF report is a raw look at facts, circumstances and results of 84 active shooter incidents from 2000 to 2010. The results were presented to more than 200 police executives who met in Washington DC recently to discuss the findings.

Prof. J. Pete Blair, of Texas State University summarized the report findings. His premise is that we have to learn from past events to better respond to the inevitable future events. Here are some noteworthy statistics from the PERF report:

  • In 2009, incidents spiked up, and have remained there. The rise in tragedies gives police an invaluable learning tool that most would never want to have.

  • Of the 84 events studied, 29 took place at schools and 31 took place at a business or retail location. We think more about school shootings or knife attacks, maybe because an attack at a school is so much more shocking than an attack at a workplace or mall. The statistics show that we should be thinking about both.

  • 80% of the events happened at one location. 20% involved multiple locations where the suspect moved on foot from one place to another. So an officer needs to be prepared for multiple locations, inside and outside of buildings.

  • Half of the cases were resolved prior to police arrival. Most commonly they ended in susicide by the shooter. That means half of them were not resolved when the first officer showed up. So don't respond with the expectation that it will be over by the time you get there.

  • When police do get there while there is still an active threat, about half of the time police intervention stops the violence, either directly or indirectly by suspect suicide.

  • Solo entry is dangerous for the officer. One-third of the time the officer is shot. Yes, a third of the time that an officer went in alone, he or she was shot. So when you react alone to a stimuli, you have to know that you may get shot. This doesn't mean that you don't act, it means that you act with a survival mindset.

  • EMS responses are delayed because it takes time for officers to give the all clear. Why? The report pointed out that when something like this happens, there are many different calls to 911 with varying descriptions, locations and sightings. So when there is only one shooter that is neutrlized, it may take a while for police to be sure there was only one. This brings us to the next point.

  • Police officers may be the only help the injured victims have for some time. So officers need to be issued trauma kits with tourniquets and occlusive dressings. The report shows that the officers may be in a position that they are the only ones to provide the quickest aid to victims.

It is worth it for every officer to read this report from cover to cover. There are things in it that will help get you in the right mindset if the improbable happens. The most important thing that I got out of the report is a simple reminder that officers need to train to expect a fight. When you are going to an active threat incident, don't assume the shooter will off himself before you get there and don't assume that he'll do it when he sees you. The statistics don't show that and it's an unrealistic expectation by the officer. If you count on the suspect aggressively engaging you, then you won't be taken by surprise.

Another aspect of the report validates the trainig that I received and I assume most officers get. That being, officers need to act on actual intelligence gathered before arriving and intelligence gathered in the seconds after arrival. Use your eyes and ears. Look at the building and the people on the scene. Listen to what's going on. Listen for the threat or victims responding to violence. Quickly gather information from any valid source and act, react as needed. If an officer arrives alone or arrives with other officers, then react with the resources you have, knowing that police work is dangerous and you may quickly be in a fight for your life. If you are able to stop the agressor from taking more victims, then you have done your job.


Mark Clark
Mark Clark


Mark Clark is the public information officer for a law enforcement agency in the southwest. He is also a photographer and contributor to POLICE Magazine.

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Mark Clark is the public information officer for a law enforcement agency in the southwest. He is also a photographer and contributor to POLICE Magazine.

View Bio