Lessons from the San Bernardino School Shooting

We don’t always like to talk about the lessons we could learn from a tragedy in the immediate aftermath of the incident.  However, I think it is critically important to look at what happened in San Bernardino and see what lessons we can learn.

It might be easier for me because I came out of a career as a violent crime detective and conducting fatality reviews was a necessary part of what we would do.  Analyze the murder and determine if there were things that could or should have been done.  Were there signs or signals that were missed?

The goal is not to place blame but to make sure we learn and apply what we learn to ensure that it does not happen again. 

What we have learned over the past 20 years is that many domestic murders are preventable.  Yes, preventable.

I have been utterly amazed over the past 20 years how long it has taken to get communities to adopt these proven strategies. I spent more than 10 years traveling worldwide sharing what we learned in Nashville AND how we reduced domestic violence murders.

When I joined the Nashville, TN Metropolitan Police Department in 1991:

  • Nashville averaged 25 domestic violence murders annually
  • Few states had domestic violence statutes (treated the same as an assault/battery)
  • Domestic violence was considered a family problem not a community problem
  • Women were mistreated by a criminal justice system that did not understand why they were not leaving the abuser

In 1994 I was selected to help develop and help implement the Nashville Domestic Violence Division which:

  • Was the largest police-based domestic violence program in the U.S.
  • Was honored as a model program by President Bill Clinton.
  • Included 25 specially trained detectives
  • Included 4 prosecutors and 4 social workers

The results of the Nashville PD Domestic Violence Division were immediate:

  • Domestic murders dropped by 50%.  Catch that? 
  • 12-14 people each year were NOT being killed by an intimate partner.

It became clear that domestic violence murders were NOT a “heat of the moment” crime.  There are indicators and escalations, often times over years. There are lethality indicators that were uncovered by studying domestic homicides that helped us when we would see this indicators before someone was killed.

This was a huge paradigm shift for the Nashville Police Department.  Policing at its core is reactive.  Even with all the changes over the past 20 years and community policing, data-driven policing etc, it is still a very reactive machine.

You get robbed, police show up.

You get shot, police show up.

Somebody steals your car, police show up.

The Nashville model was a shift and the result is that it saved lives!  How much more valuable can you get than saved lives?

By now you are asking what does this possibly have to do with the San Bernardino School Shooting?

I have made the following observations (read my words…observations NOT blame):

  1. This was Classic Domestic Violence.  They had only been together for a few months but were already estranged and he had a criminal history for domestic violence, weapons and drugs. 
  2. After Separation the Danger to the Victim Increased Substantially. I have always been shocked when people ask a victim of domestic violence why they stay in the relationship.  Honestly, it is a heck of a lot safer.  75% of women killed by a current or former partner are killed AFTER they leave.  Leaving is dangerous for victims and their kids.
  3. Leaving a Violent Relationship is Dangerous for Your Employer.  Where is the one place a violent abuser can find an estranged partner?  WORK .  I was a member of the anti-stalking team in Nashville.  Stalking exists after there has been separation and is a huge indicator in increased lethality risk.

What are the Solutions to Prevent San Bernardino:

1.      Adopt Domestic Violence Policies and Make Sure All Employees Understand Them.

  • Encourage employees to disclose if they are a victim of domestic violence.
  • Make sure it is clear that employees understand they will not be held responsible for an abusers behaviors.
  • Emphasize the importance of employees notifying employers about threats we so can help keep them, employees, students, visitors, and/or contractors safe.

2.      Control Access to Your Facility

  • The first step in preventing a violent incident is securing your perimeter.
  • Visitors should not be allowed unfettered access to your organization (not so easy if you are retail, I get that).

How do I Control Access?

  • A visitor management system is the first step in securing a facility.  I am amazed that 90% of the organizations I visit each week rely upon visitor honesty to control access.  If a person is determined to hurt someone, telling a lie to the receptionist is not a stretch.
  • Not all visitor management systems are created equal.  Many acquiesce to front office personnel and deploy self-service kiosks that defeats the whole purpose of security.
  • Dottie Davis, Director of Security for Fort Wayne Community Schools and SafeVisitor Advisory Board Member, said that she employs retired police officers in high traffic buildings because she wants the first point of contact to be with a trained person who understands unusual behavior and would act upon it.  Dottie is an internationally recognized expert on domestic violence and school security.

What are the Key Components of a Quality Visitor Management System (VMS)?

  • Excluded Parties List
    • Create lists of people who should be flagged and not allowed on your property.
    • VMS should have communications so a flagged person will kick off text/email notifications to security, administrators or e-911.
  • Real Time Sex Offender Data. Some VMS will store local data and not update automatically.
  • Cloud-Based.  Allows access anytime from any device in real-time.
  • Comprehensive Background Checks.  SafeVisitor has a full integration with one of the fastest growing background screening firms in the U.S. which allows you to create unlimited registration types (visitor, volunteer, student teacher, etc) and tie it to a national background check.
  • Use of Geo-Fence and Approved Lists.  Require all visitors, even temporary, to pre-register so that the background check and exclusion list are done before they enter the building.

Fatality reviews can be a bit uncomfortable for people outside of law enforcement or security because it feels like you are leveling blame.  The goal should never be to place blame, but to review policies and procedures to ensure it never happens again.   

The shootings in San Bernardino are not isolated and could have happened anywhere in the world.    Nearly 4,000 women are killed each year in the U.S. from domestic violence and 75% are killed after they leave which means many of them are killed at work or around work as they arrive or leave.

Join us for a webinar to discuss the Lessons from the San Bernardino School Shooting and How to Prevent this at your Organization.  Please register here as seating is limited to 100 participants.