At work this past week, I had an active shooter training.
Working for the government (in one of those nebulous departments that’s technically the state but really just the local branch of the federal government), it makes some sense to engage in these trainings. Workplace dangers are, sadly, quite the reality. And of course, the news – for better or for worse – showcases most public shootings so the perceived threat is in the air. I was worried because the program was billed as a ‘drill’, which is something I have been through and don’t wish to go through again (but then, maybe that’s the point).
The whole department was rounded up into a conference room (given we were sold this to be a drill, I cannot express how many alarms were going off in my head), and a police officer spoke to us with the aid of an off-center slide show. I don’t know if the officer was Raleigh PD, Capital police, or what. During the course of the presentation, he remarked that there were about a dozen different enforcement agencies in the downtown capital area alone.
The presentation was somewhat informative but it was also rather worrisome. Some of what bothered me was related to the presentation, some of it was ancillary. One thing that the officer said, and I don’t recall what it was in relation to, was regarding his mindset going into any call. He said, “My top priority is to go home the same way I left”, meaning to go home alive and unharmed.
Something about that bothered me, and still bothers me. For a police officer to prioritize their own well-being over all else…that just didn’t sit well with me. It still doesn’t. I am not for a moment meaning to propose a different set of priorities. I’m not saying those are the wrong priorities. I’m just saying that doesn’t seem right to me.
The officer explored three shootings as case studies for his presentation: Columbine, Virginia Tech, and San Bernardino. The officer very briefly discussed the details of the crimes, highlighting the perceived plans of each event as evidence for points he was making. His claims didn’t fit what I’ve read recently, but in a two-hour seminar on safety, I can imagine there isn’t much time for detailed analysis and/or nuance. Besides, this was less about the shooters and more about the victims and the situation, but it still struck me as curious that he harped on and on about the mindset of Syed Farook & Tashfeen Malik, as well as Eric Harris & Dylan Klebold, like their insight was perfectly known. I don’t know that any of his assertions were wrong (for example, that the San Bernardino shooters were planning to escape and live, whereas the Columbine shooters were not), but merely his absolute confidence was actually off-putting.
As the presentation continued, the officer quoted some interesting statistics that since the presentation, I have been trying to verify (to varying degrees of success). He claimed:
- 41% of all women’s death in the workplace is due to murder
- 18% of all violent crime occurs in the workplace
- 1/3 of all female murders are by an intimate partner or former intimate partner
- ½ of all Domestic Violence Protection Orders (the modern version of a restraining order) are violated
Additionally, it bothered me that he used the terms ‘criminal’ and ‘terrorist’ interchangeably. Terrorists are most assuredly criminals, but I’m not sure all criminals are terrorists. As he spent considerable time discussing the motivations of the shooters in each of the three case studies, it stuck me as odd that he felt comfortable lumping criminal shootings and terrorist attacks together. Perhaps as far as mass shootings are concerned, they are or might as well be one and the same.
All of this, I suppose, is quite elementary. At the end of the day, the lessons of dealing with an active shooting situation are the same: run if you can, hide if you can’t, and have a plan in place beforehand. Such simple rules for survival, and yet in the moment, you’d be amazed how much of one’s rational mind simply evaporates.
With the presentation over, my coworkers and I returned to work, many already forgetting the very lessons the officer so firmly drilled into them during the presentation. I’m grateful that the likelihood of such an event occurring is dramatically small. Yet, of course, humans have a terrible habit of mistaking the unprecedented and the unlikely with the impossible.