Campus police devise plan in case of active shooters
It happened at Columbine. It happened at Sandy Hook. It happened at Virginia Tech. Could it happen at UALR?
Active shooters are killers who target confined, populated areas, like malls or schools, a Department of Homeland Security Manual said. They kill indiscriminately, often with firearms. Most of these attacks end within 15 minutes, it said.
Edward L. Smith, campus chief of police and director of public safety attended at FBI-sponsored tabletop discussion about active shooters in April. These shooters are usually young – 28 is the average age – and overwhelmingly male, he said. They generally act alone or in small groups, he added.
“I don’t think we’re anymore at risk than anyplace else,” he said. “I don’t think we’re anymore at risk than McCain Mall or an elementary school.”
“At the moment, I’m not too worried about it because we haven’t had much social upheaval lately,” said Sarah Pentecost, a junior technical writing and international business major. “It’s kind of one of those situations where you don’t know what you would do until it happens,” she said.
Pentecost added that she was concerned that campus police might not be able to handle an active shooter because of their limited numbers and resources. Smith, however, said they would be ready.
“We’d have to be; that’s our job,” he said, adding that he was considering having a table top discussion at UALR that would inform people about what to do if an attack happened.
An active shooter would test the department’s resources, because there may only be four or five officers on campus at a time, Smith said. Because of this, they would call local police departments, the FBI, Metropolitan Emergency Medical Services and the Little Rock Fire Department for back up, he said.
Campus police would quarantine the campus and send out campus alerts. They would also immediately try to stop the threat by taking out the shooter, Smith said.
“After Columbine, there was a paradigm shift in how law enforcement approached shooters,” he said. Before Columbine, officers waited for backup before taking action, he noted. Now, even in small groups, police will try to stop the active shooter; every second could cost more lives.
“People think that’s nuts, but that’s what we signed up for,” Smith said.
There would be other considerations for law enforcement, as well. Detectives would try to identify the shooter, Smith said. The Department of Communication would help set up a media station to keep the press and public informed, he said. Traffic control would also be a consideration, he added, because police would block campus entrances and exits.
If there is an active shooter, people should call Department of Public Safety, or call 911 and ask the dispatcher to alert the department, Smith said. They should give them information about where the shooters are and what weapons they are using, he said. They should also give their contact information in case police need a witness.
Depending on where they are in relation to the shooter, people can either “shelter in place” by securing their area, or they can try to escape, Smith said. As a last resort, people may try to disarm the shooter, the DHS manual said. When police arrive, people should follow their instructions, stay calm and keep their hands visible, it said.
Students can adopt a “see something – say something” attitude to help prevent shootings, Smith said. If someone is dwelling on violent thoughts, let police know, he said, because there are always warning signs. For example, if someone seems unconcerned about the future, that could be a warning sign.
“A lot of people will say they just snapped. No, they didn’t just snap,” Smith said. Active shooters follow a particular “pathway to violence” that consists of dwelling, planning and researching before they prepare for and carry out the attack, he said.
Smith said he did not believe stricter gun control would prevent active shooters.
“It’s not realistic considering how many weapons are out there in this country,” he said. Also, guns are not the only weapons used in these attacks, he noted.
“[These attacks] are not occurring because we have guns; they’re occurring because we have mental health issues in this nation that we’re refusing to address,” Pentecost said.
“We definitely need to put out flyers. We have flyers for everything at UALR, but one thing we don’t have flyers for is the fact that we have a mental health clinic here – we don’t have flyers for that,” she said. “I know a lot of people who need mental help but don’t have insurance and don’t know that exists.”
“I think our mental health system in this country can play a major role in mitigating some of this,” Smith said. He added that because it can be difficult getting potential shooters into the system, it may be best to alert police if someone seems threatening.
“What mental health center is available 24/7 and makes house calls the way police do?” he asked.
It happened at Westside Middle School in Jonesboro. It happened 84 times in the first decade of the 21st century, a Texas State University study found. Could it happen at UALR?
If it does, campus police say they will be ready.