Forest Park Police Chief Tom Aftanas told the 42 people at the Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Sept. 13 to let go of the illusion that an active shooter event like one at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida “couldn’t happen here in Forest Park.”
“You never know when something is going to happen,” Aftanas said. “Just in the last few days, we’ve had two major incidents occur in Forest Park, the carjacking in Hillside that ended up at Harlem and I-290, and an armed robbery at the Dunkin’ Donuts at the corner of Jackson and Madison.”
In either case, the chief said, the criminals could have chosen to bail from their cars and run into one of our businesses, resulting in an active shooter event right here in the village.
“It just goes to show you,” he said, “that violent crime can happen anywhere.”
As he introduced Lt. Steve Weiler and Detective Mike O’Connor, who made the presentation on how to respond to active shooter events, Aftanas said, “No plan is fool proof but these are the best practices.”
Weiler began by clarifying the difference between what law enforcement officials refer to as an “active shooter” and what they call a terrorist.
“According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security,” said Weiler, “an active shooter is an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area, typically through the use of firearms.”
The lieutenant said an active shooter is usually motivated by a personal grievance, such as employees disgruntled by how they have been treated by supervisors. Their goal is not a high body count but retaliation. Often mental illness issues are involved, and in the past, the event often has ended with the shooter committing suicide.
Between 2000 and 2013 there was an average of 11 active shooter events a year in the U.S., but in the last three years the average has jumped to 20, and fewer events are ending in suicide. Recently, more of them end in the shooter being killed by law enforcement officers in a gun battle. He cited statistics revealing that 40 percent of active shooter events occur in businesses and 30 percent in schools.
Terrorist events, in contrast, are usually ideologically motivated and in response to social grievances rather than perceived abuse by individuals. The goal is not to kill an individual but to create a high body count. The objective is not to punish a wrong-doer as much as to make a sensational statement that draws attention to their cause. Rather than ending quickly as do most active shooter events, terrorists try to prolong the event and therefore gain more media attention.
O’Connor encouraged business owners to be aware. Hopefully, a shooting event will never happen in your store, he said, but things can be done to prevent one from happening.
“You know your business better than anyone,” he said. “If something seems out of place, if someone’s behavior doesn’t make sense, it’s a red flag.
“Most people who come into a store, come with the purpose of buying something. There are two kinds of people who come in and just look around — criminals who are looking for an opportunity and cops looking for criminals. If a person is wearing an overcoat on a hot summer day as if they are covering something up, if they have “icononography,” e.g. swastika or KKK tattoos, if you see something, say something. Call the cops.”
The same is true if you are a patron in a restaurant or a customer in a store. Be aware. Note where exits are located and be aware of your surroundings.
If, in spite of your vigilance, an active shooter event begins, according to Weiler there is a three-step protocol to follow:
- Evacuate regardless of whether others agree to follow.
- Leave belongings behind.
- Help others to escape if possible.
- Call 911 when safely out of danger.
- Keep your hands visible so entering law enforcement people can see them.
- Do not attempt to move the wounded.
- The first priority of first responders is to stop the shooter, not to assist you or help the wounded. Don’t impede them.
If you can’t run …
- Get out of the shooter’s view. Lock the door.
- Provide protection. A hollow door may conceal but it won’t protect you from gunfire.
- Move a heavy object against the locked door.
- Turn off your cellphone.
- Try to find a hiding place from which you can escape if you are discovered.
If you can no longer hide …
- Act as aggressively as possible.
- Use anything, a chair, even a stapler, as a weapon.
- Commit to your action.
Weiler said that when you are safely out of harm’s way, there may still be things to do … or not to do.
First, stop the bleeding in yourself or in others. He noted that one person whose leg was blown off in the Boston Marathon bombing survived because a bystander held his femoral artery shut until the medical personnel arrived.
Don’t get in the way of first responders. Again, let them see you have nothing in your hands. In the chaos of the moment, the police may have trouble distinguishing between the bad guys and the victims.
Weiler concluded the presentation by reporting that after almost every active shooter event, many people say, “We never thought that kind of thing could happen here.” He said, “Your actions can make a difference for your safety and survival; be aware and prepared.”