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Colo. massacre: Educating the public on the five phases of the active shooter

We need to energize the public and educate them on how they can do a great deal to prevent these shootings

Editor’s Note: My friend and PoliceOne Colleague Dan Marcou developed the Five Phases of the Active Shooter because of personal experiences with them. He has not copyrighted the material because he wants to make what he believes is life-saving information available to law enforcement and the public. I encourage you to take column and the accompanying video below and use it as the foundation on which you build your own department’s effort to educate the public on the five phases of the active shooter.
— Doug Wyllie, PoliceOne Editor in Chief

I predict the investigation into the Aurora, Colorado tragedy will reveal the actions the shooter took prior to his deadly spree did not go unnoticed. They just went unreported.

How many more times must police officers be dispatched to this type of mayhem when so many such cases can be prevented?

This may be an opportune time for law enforcement to strike while the iron is hot. We need to energize the public and educate them on how they can do a great deal to prevent these shootings. In a world that includes burgeoning active shooters, the public needs to be taught that a “head in the sand” citizenry must be a thing of the past.

Train the Public
Law enforcement officers in uniform en masse must take to the podium and tell the public they can save lives by recognizing a neighbor, friend, fellow student, client, patient, customer, employee, or relative that might have turned a dangerous corner.

We need to train the public in the five phases of the active shooter. Nearly every active shooter goes through these five phases.

If a citizen pays attention and calls the police they may very well prevent a tragedy of monumental proportions. The five are:

1.) Fantasy Stage
During this stage the shooter has daydreams of the shooting. He fantasizes about the news coverage. He idolizes other shooters. He might draw pictures of the event and make Web postings.

Would-be Active Shooters in the Fantasy Stage will often discuss their desires with friends and foes alike. If news of these fantasies are shared with you, believe them and pass them on to law enforcement. If police can intervene prior to the suspect acting on their fantasy there may never be a head line.

2.) Planning Stage
In this stage the suspect is deciding on the “who, what, when, where and how” of his day of infamy. He will put his plans down in writing. He will quite often discuss these plans with others and sometimes seek out an accomplice. He will plan the time and location to insure the most victims, or in some cases to target specific victims.

He will determine the weapons he will need and where he will get them. He will decide how to travel to the target area and how to dress to conceal his weapons without arousing suspicion.

If the police are tipped, during this stage, once again intervention can be made prior to people dying and families crying.

3.) Preparation Stage
During this stage the suspect may be obtaining gun powder for his improvised explosive devices. He might break into grandfather’s house to steal some weapons and ammunition for the event. He might stock pile or pre-position weapons and explosives for the assault. Active Shooters have been known to call friends and tell them not to go to school or work on the scheduled day of the attack in an effort to keep them out of the line of fire.

If one of these friends calls the police about their concerns, this citizen intervention may prevent multiple funerals.

4.) Approach Stage
This is a very dangerous stage. The suspect has made his plans and decided to act. He will be walking, driving, or riding toward his intended target, armed with his tools of death.

Contact with the soon-to-be active shooter could come in the form of a traffic stop, a citizen call, or a stop and frisk. A thorough investigation can still lead to an arrest of the suspect before he brings down a multitude of victims in a needless shooting or bombing.

5.) Implementation Stage
Once the shooter opens fire, immediate action needs to be taken. The Active Shooter will continue to kill until he runs out of victims or ammunition, or is stopped. This suspect is unique, because he is fully dedicated to going for the “top score,” which is measured in kills.

The sooner an on or off-duty officer, or citizen intervenes with an effective, efficient act of courage, the less casualties there will be. In past incidents, active shooters have been thwarted by police officers, security guards school teachers and students. One principal recently died successfully stopping an active shooter in a Wisconsin school. There is a risk in doing something, but the greatest risk lies in doing nothing.

All schools, businesses and Government buildings need to stop banning off-duty and retired police officers from carrying their weapons concealed on premises. Police officers are not the problem they are the solution!

Tell The Public They Can Absolutely Make a Difference
The public needs to be reminded of Sir Robert Peel’s statement, “The police are the public and the public are the police.” This country has forgotten that police officers are merely paid members of the public that perform duties that are incumbent on every citizen.

In the case of every active shooter before one shot is fired they dream, draw, write, discuss, twitter, plan, gather, purchase, steal, construct, case, practice, dress, pack, load, transport and approach. Quite often these actions, when performed by a future active shooter are disconcerting even without the witness knowing their context. Many lives have been saved, because someone saw something and said something… to the police.

The Public Response
Response to the active shooter has been trained to police nation-wide. It is now time to educate the public on the role they can play in preventing an evil person from turning their personal dream into a community’s unforgettable nightmare.

Now is the time to sit your public down and tell them. Trust me, they are ready to listen.

Lt. Dan Marcou is an internationally-recognized police trainer who was a highly-decorated police officer with 33 years of full-time law enforcement experience. Marcou’s awards include Police Officer of the Year, SWAT Officer of the Year, Humanitarian of the Year and Domestic Violence Officer of the Year. Upon retiring, Lt. Marcou began writing. Additional awards Lt. Marcou received were 15 departmental citations (his department’s highest award), two Chief’s Superior Achievement Awards and the Distinguished Service Medal for his response to an active shooter. He is a co-author of “Street Survival II, Tactics for Deadly Encounters,” which is now available. His novels, “The Calling, the Making of a Veteran Cop,” “SWAT, Blue Knights in Black Armor,” “Nobody’s Heroes” and Destiny of Heroes,” as well as his latest non-fiction offering, “Law Dogs, Great Cops in American History,” are all available at Amazon. Dan is a member of the Police1 Editorial Advisory Board.