Just over a year ago, we published a blog entitled “How to Harden Soft Target Locations” which tackled the subject of increasing soft target security. In light of recent attacks on soft targets, it seems appropriate to revisit the blog to highlight some of the measures recommended at the time.
In the space of two weeks between October 24th and November 7th, 2018, there were four unrelated attacks on soft targets in the United States. Twenty-seven people were killed and dozens injured while going about their business in venues the victims would have considered to be safe - chronologically a Kentucky grocery store, a Pittsburgh synagogue, a Tallahassee yoga class, and a Thousand Oaks college bar.
Although unrelated, the tragic events shared a theme. The perpetrator in each attack had recently demonstrated warning signs of dangerous behavior as defined by Homeland Security in its “Pathway to Violence” guidelines (PDF). Had the warning signs been identified and reported to the appropriate authorities, the attacks on the four soft targets could have been averted and twenty-seven lives saved.
Issues with Identifying and Reporting Warning Signs
It's easy to write had the warning signs been identified, and had they been reported to the authorities, the tragic events could have been averted, but in practice it's not that straightforward. It is difficult to identify a long-term behavioral change when you see the same person frequently, and often equally as hard to recognize a suspicious event when it occurs (take these tests to see how well you would do).
A further issue concerns reporting a behavioral change or suspicious event to authorities. Writing for Law and Order Magazine, Chief J. T. McBride - a former chief of campus police at Lakeland Community College in Kirtland, MI discussed the reasons why individuals may be reluctant to report friends, colleagues, or other people because of potential repercussions. Chief McBride's reasons included:
• Individuals who cannot afford to get involved with law enforcement because they are involved in illegal activities or wanted by the police.
• Individuals who are fearful of being labeled a “snitch” and ostracized by their friends, colleagues, or family members - or, in some cases, by the whole community.
• Individuals who are concerned a false accusation may result in a lawsuit or other form of retaliation - i.e. the failure to be considered for promotion at work.
• Individuals who are scared they will suffer some form of physical harm because the person they are reporting is known to be dangerous or violent.
• Individuals who fear being labeled as “politically incorrect” for reporting the activities of somebody with a different skin color, religious belief, or cultural heritage.
Anonymous Tip Hotlines are Proven to be Effective
A solution for resolving the “reluctant-to-report” issue is anonymous tip hotlines. Anonymous tip hotlines contribute towards increasing soft target security by alerting law enforcement agencies to behavioral changes and suspicious activities that could be warning signs of an attack on a soft target. Anonymous tip hotlines are proven to be effective at preventing crime and resolving investigations:
• The anonymous Crime Stoppers tip hotline program in Kansas City has helped resolve 5,945 crimes and resulted in 3,165 arrests.
• A similar program in New York City has helped resolve more than 5,300 violent crimes, including over 1,400 murders and attempted murders.
• In Nashville, the anonymous Crime Stoppers tip hotline has resulted in 11,286 cases being cleared and 7,366 arrests being made.
• In Broward County, FL, 277 homicides have been solved and 12,861 arrests made since the anonymous tip hotline service was introduced in 1983.
• The City of Austin anonymous tip hotline has been running even longer (since 1979) and to date has contributed to the resolution of 11,924 criminal cases.
These examples (and many more) imply that if more anonymous tip services were introduced and individuals encouraged to use them, the number of attacks on soft targets could be reduced. They may not prevent every attack; but, if by increasing soft target security via the implementation of an anonymous tip hotline one life is saved, the exercise will have been worthwhile.
Increasing Soft Target Security is Everyone's Responsibility
As we wrote in our blog last year - “How to Harden Soft Target Locations” - anonymous tip hotlines are only part of the solution for increasing soft target security. Furthermore, the responsibility for increasing soft target security should not only rest with the public and law enforcement agencies, but needs to include community leaders, venue owners, event coordinators, and employers.
Multiple tools exist for increasing soft target security - from panic button mobile apps, to alert systems with SMS opt-in, and facility floor mapping - and community leaders, venue owners, event coordinators, and employers should make use of these tools wherever a soft target exists to help prevent a reoccurrence of the tragic events witnessed in Kentucky, Pittsburgh, Tallahassee, and Thousand Oaks.
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