Police Officer Training: Strategies for Active-Shooter Situations

By Jean Reynolds

Police strategies for dealing with an active shooter need to ensure the safety of both officers and citizens. The FBI can be a valuable training and threat assessment partner. Effective preventive measures are especially important when dealing with a possible active shooter.

To the average citizen, police strategies for dealing with an active shooter seem simple and straightforward: Send in a police officer with a weapon to take down the crazed gunman. The reality, however, is far more complex. FBI data shows that 43% of the time the crime is over before police arrive. In 20% of the cases, the shooter moves on to another location. One-third of the officers who engage an active shooter are shot at the scene.

Clearly active shooters present a serious threat to police officers as well as the general public. Although active-shooter situations quickly grab media attention, many important steps in keeping citizens safe occur away from public attention. What police departments do before and after a shooting is almost as important as what happens on the scene itself.

Preventive steps are less dramatic and glamorous than taking down a crazed gunman, but they can save many lives. Local agencies can encourage citizens to watch a short, free FBI video called Run > Hide >Fight: Surviving an Active Shooter Event. And they can encourage ordinary citizens to report behavior patterns associated with potential shooters, including mental illness, a preoccupation with violence, stockpiling weapons and ammunition, a precipitating crisis, and a history of violent behavior.

The actual assessment should, of course, be done by criminal justice professionals. Workplaces and schools need to realize that it’s not enough to expel an out-of-control student or fire disgruntled employee. Law enforcement can counsel school and business leaders about appropriate steps to prevent future retaliation.

The FBI offers many free resources to help local agencies prepare to deal with a possible active shooter situation. The May 2013 Law Enforcement Bulletin features an excellent article called “Addressing the Problem of the Active Shooter.”

After an incident has occurred, police departments need to be prepared to deal with media representatives who will be reporting on a developing story and its aftermath. Active-shooter incidents are always media events. Because active shooters are sometimes motivated by the hunger for publicity, care should be taken not to glamorize the incident or the gunman (97% of active shooters are male, according to the FBI).

The FBI provides training and resources to assist police departments with potential active-shooter situations. The May 2013 Law Enforcement Bulletin features an excellent article called “Addressing the Problem of the Active Shooter.”


Run Hide Fight: Surviving an Active Shooter Event. (2013, November 18). Retrieved November 8, 2015, from https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/office-of-partner-engagement/active-shooter-incidents/run-hide-fight-video

Schweit, K. (2013, May 1). Addressing the Problem of the Active Shooter. Law Enforcement Bulletin. Retrieved November 8, 2015, from https://leb.fbi.gov/2013/may/addressing-the-problem-of-the-active-shooter