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Coping in the Face of Violence

Coping in the Face of Violence
Early this week we learned of a tragic shooting at a Tampa Bay, FL area movie theater. The thoughts and hearts of all of us here at CPI are with the loved ones of the victim, his family and friends, and the survivors, facility staff, emergency responders, and direct witnesses to this tragic incident.

You may already know that my own involvement with CPI was a result of having witnessed a similar tragedy unfold in front of me over 20 years ago. At that time I worked for a different organization. The event inspired me to seek out CPI training. Little did I know then that my CPI Instructor Certification would forever change my choices, my life, and the course of my career.

Having witnessed a tragic event up close, I know that we often play out different endings to our own internal movies. Our self-talk revolves around questions like:

Could this situation have ended differently if . . .?”

“Someone should have called for help sooner, but . . .”

“Staff would have done more to help earlier, except . . .”

Following tragic events, I’m often asked to comment on how things could have ended differently. My simple and clear answers in the aftermath of a tragedy are often quite firm. My responses often include: “I don’t know,” “I wasn’t there,” and “I don’t have all of the facts available to me.”

While these may be disappointing answers, I find myself reluctant to engage in a “coulda, shoulda, woulda” dialogue.

My best guess is that everyone involved in this situation did the very best they could under incredibly difficult circumstances. Such a response is typical in situations like this.

In fact, it’s common for people in extreme circumstances to make every effort to help others. Reports tell us that the victim’s wife tried to shield her husband from the shot with her hand. Reports also say that a witness quickly called 911 and that two nurses present rushed to the victim’s aid. An off-duty police officer reportedly grabbed the gun and detained the suspect until deputies arrived. All of these actions undoubtedly prevented further harm. Unfortunately, nobody could have predicted the incident, and no one can undo the death that resulted.

Due to my own experience in a similar situation, I can personally attest to CPI’s strategies in either preventing incidents like these or in guiding our response. That said, please note that CPI teaches prevention strategies. We do not teach tactical strategies for active intervention in response to a weapon. Tactical response strategies are best left to properly trained and authorized law enforcement professionals. And your organization’s policies and procedures should guide any response.

CPI training offers no magic answers. We’re honest about the fact that there is no magic. But we do teach incredibly helpful prevention and response strategies.

I don’t want to talk about “coulda, woulda, shoulda,” but I do want to pass along a few CPI strategies that can help if you’re ever confronted by a person with a weapon.

First, keep in mind that a person who threatens you with a weapon hasn’t necessarily decided to use it. And if the person senses that you are losing control, their behavior will most likely escalate. So try to stay as calm as possible and keep the following tips in mind until professional help arrives.
  • Take threats seriously.
    If anyone communicates any possibility of using a weapon against you, assume that they have a weapon—even if you can’t see it or verify it immediately.
     
  • Step back.
    Try to negotiate permission to take at least three steps away from the individual. If allowed, the increased distance can reduce both anxiety and weapon accuracy.
     
  • Avoid reaching for the weapon.
    Attempting to disarm a person with a weapon can be extremely dangerous. This is best left to properly trained and authorized law enforcement professionals.
     
  • Focus on the individual rather than the weapon.
    When threatened, we often tend to focus on the weapon. Shifting your focus to the individual will remind you that the real danger is not in the weapon itself, but in the aggressor’s behavior.
     
  • Negotiate.
    Make basic requests to solicit affirmative responses. The more the aggressor says “yes” to you, the less likely it is that the weapon will be used against you.
     
  • Buy time.
    Time is an asset. The longer you can talk to an aggressive individual, the less likely it is that the weapon will be used.
     
Of course there's no guarantee that these strategies will prevent bodily injury or death. But my hope is that these key points will help you be less likely to become a target of violence.
 
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