There’s been yet another act of mass violence at a school and, or course, the media has lost its mind. People are wondering how this could have happened and why. As security professionals, these questions are not new and nor is the answer. For those in the field, bear with me, I’m going to over how and why these things happen.
- It has nothing to do with WHO at times and more with WHERE. Let me explain. We always assume people target us because we mistakenly believe the target is “special” to the attacker in some sort of way. This is a common theme in our attempts to understand attacker methodology with respect to terrorism. All over electronic punditry, we’re saturated with folks who proclaim “they attack us because they hate us.” So this has become our mantra for every attack of any variety. What we fail to account for is that it’s not entirely exclusive as to who they attack but where. On Twitter, I have been practically shouting when it comes to mass violence, one of the most key ingredients, if not the key ingredient, is the presence of crowds. Nothing is more appetizing to an attacker but to make his attack seem grand and above-average for a swath of reasons I’m not qualified to adequately explain here. Let’s just say, you should NEVER EVER be surprised by the actions of mentally disturbed people.
Crowds are also, normally, not difficult to get large casualty numbers from. Think about the last time you were at baseball game or major sporting event. Ever notice the large crowd at the ticket or embarkation areas. As a security professional, whether you’re working or not, this is perhaps one of the most precarious chokepoints to be at. A chokepoint is a place where people have no other choice to be at in order to go some place. Everyone working anything from Secret Service to convoy security will tell you to ALWAYS avoid chokepoints. Why? They offer the presence of crowds, very narrow escapes for victims, and the ability of attackers to conceal themselves in the crowd.
- Violence has very little to do with the tools. Think about that for a second. I have made it no secret I enjoys guns. I do. However, I also understand the temptation to want to ban them. I’ve seen the statistics and the simulated models in whitepapers from folks who have never fired a gun or actually witnessed violence. I have a problem with this overly simplistic conceptualization of the problem. Erroneously, we believe the issue is with the mass proliferation of guns. Unfortunately, the discussion rarely acknowledges the socioeconomic, psychological, political, and cultural issues that drive some violence. More importantly, we ignore what mankind has known for decades – you can ban the tool but violence will always remain and the loss of any life is intolerable. Do you think if mankind had no guns he wouldn’t find a better way to commit acts of violence? Think about that for a second. We had no electric chair until Thomas Edison did a proof-of-concept demonstration to show the dangers of electricity. Man will always find ways to commit acts of violence against one another for whatever reason it deems fit. This is not to say we can’t have mitigators in place but we can’t for one second believe we’re getting rid of the problem solely with a ban of the tools or knee-jerk “reforms”.
- People mistakenly use “mitigation” and “prevention” interchangeably. Security professionals understand the difference between the two. Websters defines “mitigate” as “to make (something) less severe, harmful, or painful”. Many people believe we can prevent acts of mass violence “if only we do X,Y, or Z.” There’s a huge fallacy that we can prevent crime. This comes from a sublime arrogance of humans who believe we can stop our fellow man from acting out against us.
The issue may seem to be one of semantics but I argue that it’s not. You can’t “prevent” me from speeding. Only I can do that. I used an analogy the other day where I articulated, “Just as Match.com doesn’t make marriages, you can’t “prevent” crime. You can set conditions with good mitigators but ultimately the decision to move forward or stop is on the principle actor(s).” Think about that for a second. No matter what measures you put in place, whether it’s a guard at a school or metal detectors, my ability to accomplish the task of killing a large amount of people at a particular location is solely left to my motivation, intelligence, ability, and imagination.
I have long argued that we have to move away from the idea that we can “prevent” crime to one where we “mitigate” attacks. A while back, I said people mistakenly believe by locking a door that somehow they have thwarted a burglary without seeing any firsthand information a burglar attacked the door and left because it was locked. Yet, everyday, most of us lock our doors anyway thinking we’re doing crime “prevention” when in fact we’re doing crime “mitigation”. Mass violence occurs many times because we mistakenly believe our mitigators can prevent it.
- We rely too heavily on certain mitigation tools. Having an armed guard at a location is a mitigator not a prevention tool. The guard is there to ensure you have the means to adequately respond to acts of violence until police arrive. School administrators have for far too long relied on guards as prevention tools and have stopped doing other things which are more effective in mitigating these acts like deploying good cameras, training personnel on monitoring camera feeds, practicing lockdown procedures with teachers and other staff during non-working hours, talking with local police about their capabilities, training staff on conflict deescalation, and paying attention to warning signs.
- We don’t train staff on attack methodology and psychology in school. Teachers and other staff are often taught how to respond to these events which is great. However, solely doing this ignores how often teachers and staff are the best sensors we have to students who may be a danger. Many times, they may observe a student doing reconnaissance or testing security and not even know it. Imagine how many lives could be saved if teachers and staff had a threat working group chaired with the school safety official and principal in schools where these incidents have taken place.
- We used to do a really good job of being very proactive with mental health incidents in this country. I’m not advocating going back to asylums. Most were wrought with abuse and shoddy practices. No, what I want is for us to become much more proactive with mental health. We can no longer see mentally ill people as “someone else’s problem”. Mass violence has taught us we can no longer think of it like this. Yet, we do. When we removed the ability of doctors and other mental health professionals to intervene immediately and possibly treat long-term issues, we placed our citizens at risk. How? When most seriously mentally disturbed people come to the attention of authorities, it is often too late and the nature for how long and where they can be adequately be treated has greatly diminished. In some jurisdictions, the police can only place you on a “mental health hold” at a local mental health facility for 72 hours or less, in many cases. If you don’t exhibit the behavior further and can be treated, you’re out.
As a former law enforcement officer, I can tell you the most distressful call to go to is a mental health one. Given that most mental health hospitalizations are never found (either because they can’t legally or no measures exists to enable it) on background checks for firearms, the problem grows exponentially worse. Many of those who have committed acts of mass violence had already been diagnosed as being seriously mentally ill but couldn’t be put in long-term care because they hadn’t been deemed a danger and even if they had, I’m unaware if this would have barred them from having firearms (as discussed previously, I’m not sure a ban for them would have been effective in preventing violence in some instances).
I understand this list is not all-inclusive but this is how I see the problem in a more condensed manner than I believe can be adequately addressed on a forum such as this. You may have other solutions or know of other ideas. As always, they are greatly appreciated.
When I was stationed in England, one of the most pressing issues we faced was theft from motor vehicles. It seemed like everyday I received a report a US service member had something stolen from their vehicle. What amazed me was not the item stolen but the simplicity required in helping prevent and mitigate the issues surrounding these thefts. Here a few simple things you can do:
- If you leave it on your car seat, it WILL get stolen. There’s no question in mind if you leave something of any value in your vehicle in plain view, it is not a matter of if but when it will be stolen. Take your valuables and secure them. If it has to remain in the vehicle, place it in your trunk. If you can take it inside, take it inside. NEVER EVER leave valuables in your car overnight. Period.
- Remember when I said “anything of value”? Well that also includes your GPS. The most common things most people forget to take in their homes, at the end of the day, is their detachable GPS unit. Take it inside. If you have to leave it in the car, lock it and the mount you use in the trunk. Also ensure your window doesn’t have the infamous “GPS markers” – the residue left when the mount’s suction piece is disconnected from your window. This is a “tell” that you have stuff of value possibly still in the vehicle.
- Limit things that tell everyone that you routinely store valuable things in your vehicles. If you’re a cop, limit the “Thin Blue Line” or FOP stickers. It tells potential thieves that on occasion (perhaps today) you leave a gun or other department-issued gear in the vehicle. If you’re in IT, now might a good time to take the ethernet cables and the old router boxes and leave them in the office or at home. Again, this tells thieves the wrong thing.
- Park your car in a lighted area in plain view of you and other pedestrians, passing motorists, and police officers. Most people think if they hide something, then thieves are less likely to attack. That is not the case always. Chances are you’re not near as good as hiding stuff as you think. If you can’t move the car to a well-lit area, at least consider moving it somewhere closer to your home.
- Your locked door means nothing. People normally laugh when I say this. I suspect this has to do with the fact that they forget that most thieves prefer easy methods of entry. If it’s on the front seat and they want it, they will choose the path of least resistance – your windows.
- Get an alarm but actually go outside and turn it off when it annunciates. One of the biggest mistakes people make is they hear the car alarm go off but take a quick glance out and immediately turn off. What your car alarm is saying every time it goes off is “Hey you! Someone who is not you just touched me – as in I think someone is trying to steal stuff” It’s a pain in the butt for sure to go out every single time. However, I’d rather know I actually went out and saw for myself rather than find my stuff gone because I deactivated the alarm with a visual inspection.
- Make securing your car a part of your nightly security routine. I do it every single night. I check all of the doors and windows in my house. Once I’m done there, I arm mine and my wife’s vehicle, ensuring the doors are locked. This has to be done.
- Buy insurance for all of your stuff. Seriously. Buy insurance that covers loss of stuff from your vehicle. Remember, it’s not a matter of if but when your stuff will get taken.
- If you’re parked in a public garage, practice all of the steps above AND consider parking near cameras. Thieves often hit public garages and lots because they believe they’ll have some privacy (i.e. areas to hide and do their business). You rob them of that privacy by placing the vehicle some place where natural observers can see them and where there are cameras. If the garage is manned, consider parking the car nearest where the attendants are at. Also, always take your parking passes, gate keys, and ticket stubs with you.
- If you’re in a business that requires tools in your vehicles, be extra vigilant when taking the vehicle home with you. Seriously. Of all the vehicles that get attacked, work vehicles are targeted the most. Why? You’re more likely to have expensive stuff.
I have seen a lot of criminal acts in my 30-something years of being on this blue rock. Occasionally, I find myself amazed by how ingenious and brazen certain criminals are. This story out of China is one such case. A lady was innocently riding her bike when a pickpocket jogs next to her. As he gets closer to her, he uses chopsticks to retrieve her phone from jacket. That’s right – chopsticks. You have to see it to believe it.
Yup. That’s what you call a smooth operator.
I have a pet-peeve with the current spate of “anti-theft” apps for mobile devices. My problem doesn’t lie with their technology. Nope, my issue is with their marketing. There are a plethora of these apps that are being called “crime prevention tools”. I know what you’re thinking, “But if someone takes my cell phone, this app will use the GPS to track my phone and send me an email so I can tell the police where to get my phone.” True, but answer this question – What crime did it stop? Seriously, what crime did your app stop? And therein lies the problem with the app and with how we view crime prevention.
Part of the reason we have such a high rate of crime in this country resides mostly in our definition of “crime prevention”. Many times, we mistakenly believe “prevention” relies on the response to the crime. A faster recovery means we’ve sent a message to the bad guys that they can’t take our stuff without the cops coming to get them. Stop laughing. That’s the message the creative marketing teams behind these apps and other products will have you believe. Remember Nancy Reagan’s “just say no” campaign and the “war on drugs/crime”. Those sent a clear message to the bad guys – we have no clue how to stop you.
Stopping crime is a noble objective but no crime is totally preventable. As a matter of fact, it’s a safe bet that at some point in your life, you will be a victim of a crime. After 10 years of doing law enforcement in the military and my current job, I have an idea as to why this is. Simply put, the reason you will be a victim of crime at some point in your life rests in two places and neither of which needs the other for the crime to take place.
The first place where the crime onset takes place is with the criminal. Remember what I said a few posts ago about how the attacker will ultimately attack you regardless of what you do? The same idea applies here. You can’t control what an attacker will do. If he/she is motivated and skilled enough, which are two things you can’t always plan on, there is very little you can do beforehand to stop them. That’s not a defeatist attitude. This is me directing you to the second place where the crime onset occurs – the victim.
Victims, typically, do a lot of things good before an attack occurs but they also do some things terribly wrong. Where things go wrong for them is in their attitude – “I never thought it would happen to me…..But I lock my doors….Why me?” There are loads of reasons you were selected to be a victim. None of which you may have had any control over. It is for this reason I think we need a new crime strategy – crime mitigation.
As we’ve discussed before, your attitude towards crime mitigation has to be proactive. You have to be thinking about the best way to lower your chances of being a victim and lessening the damage from an attack. Whether you purchase a smart phone or sports car, you should have a proactive attitude towards engaging the threat. Buying an alarm or an app won’t stop theft but planning on it to happen at some point may not only mitigate the damage but provide more creative solutions to prevent the loss from happening in the first place.
In my real world job, I come across many crimes. None of them is more troubling than home invasions. According to the Department of Justices’ Bureau of Justice Statistics:
- An estimated 3.7 million burglaries occurred each year on average from 2003 to 2007.
- A household member was present in roughly 1 million burglaries and became victims of violent crimes in 266,560 burglaries
- Offenders were known to their victims in 65% of violent burglaries; offenders were strangers in 28%.
- Overall, 61% of offenders were unarmed when violence occurred during a burglary while a resident was present. About 12% of all households violently burglarized while someone was home faced an offender armed with a firearm.
Often, victims seem to picked at random or targeted by someone they know. However, in my experiences there a few things I think could mitigate the risks and the aftermath associated with home invasions.
- Prepare, prepare, prepare, prepare. Seriously, prepare. Most people assume because they lock their doors and have a gun that will stop someone from coming into their homes. Sometimes it and sometimes it doesn’t. In order to mitigate this crime, potential victims have to prepare for the unthinkable and oftentimes, unlikely – someone will come and eventually break into your home while you’re there. Just like every other disaster, homeowners and tenants should make preparations as if it could happen.
- NEVER EVER receive a visitor at a door you have never received someone at before. Many people who do home invasions often pick rear entrances to force their way inside. Think about it. Why don’t you receive guests at your back door? Is it because it’s dark, away from the drive, or is not in a place where you can see them approach? These are all of the reasons attackers love these entrances.
- NEVER EVER leave a door open that you’re not close enough to shut when needed. I get it. The weather is blazing hot. Your entire house feels like an oven and all you want is a breeze. So you leave a door open. If an attacker is looking places to commit this crime, an open door is too appetizing to pass up. No matter how heroic or brave you think you are, you can never react in enough time if an attacker can open an unlocked door into your home.
- Consider a dog. I know. I know. Stop rolling your eyes. Seriously. Dogs can’t fix everything and they are not a crime solution. However, if you live alone, a dog can be both an alarm and a defender. In a home invasion, you need all the help you can get. Imagine that it’s 3am and you hear your backdoor being kicked in. So does your 100 pound German Shepherd. He goes to investigate or stays with you. Either way, there’s a good chance whoever is in your home will know you have a dog (probably because he sank his teeth into the invaders flesh) or your neighbors could hear his bark.
- Consider buying new windows or new window locks. Older windows are ideal for home invasions, primarily because they are difficult to adequately secure. Over time, people paint over their locks which then become immobilized. Many people never bother to check if the windows lock. Checking your window locks is very important and should be a part of your daily routine.
|(Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics)
- Buy or build a duress alarm. I know this sounds a bit extreme and complicated. I can assure you that neither is true. I recently, built a home duress alarm for my home in less than 15 minutes using speaker wire, a rocker switch, a piezo siren, and D cell battery pack. Once I flip the switch, the same siren you hear on a car alarm is heard throughout my home. I won’t divulge where I keep it but suffice it to say I have it somewhere I plan to go the second I hear or see someone break into my home. You should consider doing the same. If you don’t have the materials to make one, you should buy a window/door alarm sold at “dollar stores” found across the United States. Just keep one near where you plan to be during a home invasion and activate it once it occurs. The sound will distract and alert the bad guy that you know they are there and so will most of your neighbors. Some alarm companies can install a duress alarm in your home that will emit a siren and call the police. I prefer my method only because I know firsthand that phone service can go down and cellular backups aren’t installed in every home security system. Plus my method cost me $20 when I made it myself and was $2 when purchased as a window/door alarm.
|Here’s a duress alarm I built. This is without an enclosure which I’ll add soon enough
- Have a phone at your bedside and wherever you are in your home. There’s nothing worse than having someone break into your home, getting to your safe haven, and not having a phone to call the police. Have a phone near you at all times. In the military, it was a cardinal sin not to be within arm’s length of your weapon at all times. I consider the same to be true of your phone. Also don’t have a phone near you that won’t work like a cell phone you know that doesn’t get reception in your home. I also can reiterate the need to have a landline phone. Stop rolling your eyes. Seriously. If your cell phone doesn’t work, you’ll need to get help somehow. Trust me. You’ll thank me later.
- Figure out your safe haven. Many people call this a “panic room”. I hate that term. During an emergency situation, you can’t afford to panic. You need to be ready to fight off the attacker in a deliberate fashion. Ideal places for safe havens are places you and your loved ones can get to when the attack occurs. I also find it useful to think of this place as an area where I will make my last stand. In other words, should the attacker breach the door into this area I will use any and all force available to repel him. Should you find yourself in a position where you have to defend an area while your family moves to a safe haven, have a “password”. You may find yourself having to gain entry into their safe haven should you believe the attacker has left or you have repelled him. Your family should know to never open the “safe haven” door unless they receive the “password”. Consider giving the dispatcher this “password” so she can tell first responders and you can know if they are friend or foe.
- Consider your armaments. Most people think a gun is the perfect solution. In some cases, it might very well be. This isn’t a discussion about calibers or rifle vs handgun vs shotgun. This is about whether your weapons can and will repel an attacker. I can’t tell you what to arm yourself with. There are some folks who are just as lethal with a carpenter’s pencil as they are with a shotgun. What I will tell you is to ARM YOURSELF!! Trust me. Don’t get caught without a weapon during an attack. You should have armaments stationed in places you can get to immediately during an attack. Whether it be a knife or a gun, have it ready and nearby. Also don’t use something you haven’t trained in using and retaining. An area most gun owners fail in doing is learning weapons retention skills. There are loads of classes and seminars on this topic. Do your research and learn about how to use and retain your armaments.
- Secure places you have left unsecured. Sun Tzu says, “So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak.” This is true in crime prevention. Your enemy will always hit you where you’re not preparing for him at. That’s why you check the first floor doors and windows, basement entrances to include windows, storm shelters, etc. Any place a human being could get into you should be checking daily for signs of weakness.