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May 14, 2019

As you’re reading this article, the latest active shooter event could have occurred a day ago, several days ago, or even months ago. But no matter how much time has passed, we can be sure that there was a latest active shooter incident to talk about. To many of us it feels like nearly every time we check the news there’s a report of an incident.

And with the seeming increase in frequency, the locations of active shooter events are evolving as well. When these types of situations began, and when they really gained national traction with the Columbine shooting, it seemed as though they were generally confined to schools and places of work (think disgruntled former employee coming back to exact revenge for some perceived slight).

But it now appears that they can happen almost anywhere groups of people are gathered, without warning or making sense to us. Think churches, concert venues, military bases and subways.

So are active shooter incidents really on the rise, or does it just seem so because of the uptick in around-the-clock news coverage and social media? What do the active shooter statistics and evidence tell us and how can we use that information to help us not only prepare for those situations and address them tactically, but also prevent them from happening in the first place?

Let’s dive into it and see what we can learn.

By the Numbers

According to the FBI, there were a total of 50 active shooter events in 2016 and 2017 combined (20 in 2016 and 30 in 2017). Of those 50, 20 met the “mass killing” definition which is three or more killings in a single incident. Compare that with 40 active shooter incidents in 2014/2015 and we see a slight uptick in the overall number, while the mass killing number stayed exactly the same at 20.

Excluding the shooters, there were a total of 943 casualties in 2016/2017 – 221 killed and 722 wounded. That number includes 13 law enforcement officers who were killed and 20 wounded. Unlike the slight uptick we saw in the number of incidents,here we see a significant increase in casualties over 2014/2015 in which there was 231 casualties (92 killed and 139 wounded).

Why such a drastic increase in the number of casualties? Is it because of the type of weapons used? A slower response from law enforcement, for whatever reason? These are questions that need to be looked at and analyzed so that we can take steps to buck this trend and see casualties decrease.

Who are the Shooters?

Although it may sound obvious and cliché, of the 50 active shooter incidents as reported by the FBI in 2016/2017,all 50 shooters were male. Now we do see a slight deviation in the 2014/2015 numbers where 39 were male and three were female, but overall,the trend of male active shooters is borne out by the statistics.

As we look at the statistics for 2016/2017, each shooter was male and each acted alone. They ranged in age from 14 to 66 years of age. But which age group accounted for the most active shooters? Answer – the twenties.Of the 50 active shooters, 18 (36%) were in their twenties.

Three shooters wore body armor. This seems to be a rather low number, especially with the availability of body armor. However, 13 shooters committed suicide, 11 were killed by law enforcement, and citizens stopped eight,so we can assume that nearly two-thirds of the shooters had no plan to be taken alive and, therefore, no real need of body armor.

We garner a lot of information from these statistics, notably that a majority of active shooters have no interest in talking, negotiating or surrendering,so that we, as law enforcement, can assume that we must be the ones to end the situation.

Frequently Targeted Locations

As we touched on in the opening paragraphs, the old thinking was that targets were schools and businesses. Does that thinking still hold true according to the statistics?

Of the 50 active shooter incidents from 2016/2017, FBI statistics tell us that eight unique location areas were targeted:

  •         Areas of commerce (17)
  •         Education environments (7)
  •         Variety of open space locations (14)
  •         Government properties (3)
  •         Solely at residences (2)
  •         Houses of worship (2)
  •         Health care facilities (4)
  •         On a bus (1)

So we still see that roughly half of the incidents occurred on some form of business or education/school property. But we also see that nearly half occurred in a variety of other locations, from health care facilities to government property and even churches. We can use these statistics and numbers to help analyze and predict where an active shooter incident may take place. However, the main takeaway is that they can occur anywhere and at any time.

Remember that generally shooters look for soft targets, or those places without a heavy police or security presence. These types of locations tend to have a high density of people as well, or in other words, many potential victims. Again, think parks, restaurants, malls, schools.

Therefore,any location with a high concentration of people must be aware of the risks and take the necessary measures to prepare ahead of time for just such a situation.

How do Active Shooter Incidents End?

According to the FBI, of the 50 active shooter situations from 2016/2017, 13 ended with the shooter committing suicide, while 11 ended with the assailant killed by law enforcement. Eight shooters were stopped in some way by brave citizens, while 18 active shooters were apprehended by law enforcement. That last statistic shows an increase from the previous two years in which police apprehended 12.

It’s difficult to say why that number has increased without further study, but one theory is thatthese persons want the media coverage and notoriety that comes with committing such a heinous crime. For them, it’s not enough to cause the carnage, they also want to enjoy the coverage of it. This is one reason that many law enforcement agencies and media outlets are now refusing to give the shooter the coverage he seeks, be that by not saying his name or showing his picture on the news.

What’s the Takeaway?

Active shooter statistics are a great tool to help us understand patterns and behaviors, and then formulate plans based off those conclusions that will help us better prepare and handle those situations when they arise.

Although these types of incidents can, and do, take place almost anywhere,we can still determine from the FBI’s statistics that many are likely to happen in an education or business environment. We can also ascertain that the shooter is most likely to be a male in his teens or twenties.

The stats aren’t quite as clear on how the active shooter incident will end, but it’s likely we can conclude that it will end by either suicide, killing by law enforcement, or apprehension by law enforcement.

Based on those statistics and conclusions, your law enforcement department can analyze the community and determine things like vulnerable targets (schools, parks, etc.) and potential shooters, and then formulate a comprehensive plan and use it to train for the types of situations you may face. Even just hosting an active shooter training at a local high school or community center can make citizens more aware of the potential dangers and what to do in those situations.

Statistics show that between 2000 and 2015, the number of active shooter incidents per year has shown a relatively steady increase, with no real signs of slowing down. Therefore, we – law enforcement as a whole – must continue to analyze the trends and find ways to work within our communities to combat this tragic issue as best we can.