On April 20, 1999, two Columbine High School students killed twelve classmates and a teacher in Littleton, Colorado. The shooters committed suicide before officers entered the school to intervene. Outrage on the part of the public and deep introspection by the police produced massive changes in law enforcement response to ongoing acts of violence. Unfortunately, active shooter events (ASEs) have continued to occur. Recent tragedies have happened at the Century 21 Movie Theater in Aurora, Colorado, and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Out of 70 people shot in Aurora, Colorado, 12 eventually died. Twenty first graders, six staff members, and the shooter’s mother were murdered in Newtown. Even more recently, employees at the Washington Navy Yard in the District of Columbia were attacked. Twelve people were killed in this attack. All four of these events drew national attention.
Such high-profile events put a substantial amount of pressure on law enforcement officials to respond effectively; however, solid empirical information is needed if law enforcement administrators are to develop effective policies and procedures regarding these events. The goal of this article is to provide such information along with the authors’ insights into what these data tell us about an effective active shooter response.
Although not an exhaustive review of each incident, this evaluation identified a steady rise in incidents, as well as a consistent increase in the number of those shot and killed. The data establish that officers must have the equipment with them to engage the shooter to end the threat and must be prepared to administer medical assistance to the wounded before emergency medical services (EMS) arrive.
In addition, though officers responded quickly (i.e., median time 3 minutes), shooters inflicted devastating damage beforehand. This adds to the growing evidence that citizens must have insight on how to respond. The FBI’s support for strong citizen awareness, detailed in the “Run, Hide, Fight” protocol, is endorsed by all other federal agencies. The data establish that when prepared, the potential victims themselves can stop the shooter.