Attorney General: Shootings like one at Washington Navy Yard are increasing

 (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

(Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Monday that active shooter incidents, like last month’s deadly attack at the Washington Navy Yard, are on the rise.

Between 2000 and 2008, he said, the country endured an average of five such shootings annually. Since 2009, that figure has tripled, with 12 active shooter incidents this year.

Speaking to the International Association of Chiefs of Police at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, Holder said that law enforcement officials clearly need to update their response to the violence.

“It’s become clear that new strategies — and aggressive national response protocols — must be employed to stop shooters in their tracks,” he said.

Holder said that patrol officers, not better-trained, better-equipped SWAT teams, are often the first responders on the scene. This reality means all law enforcement officials should receive optimal equipment and training, he argued.

Holder said the U.S. Department of Justice has helped train 50,000 front-line officers, as well as more than 10,000 on-scene commanders and agency heads, on how to react to active shooter incidents in the last decade. The department is working to develop guidelines for schools, churches and average citizens to prepare for shootings. It is also trying to prevent the attacks altogether, he said.

“We’re placing an increased emphasis on the need to carefully evaluate threats and certain individuals in order to disrupt planned shootings and other violent attacks,” he said. 

Since 2011, the FBI’s Behavioral Threat Assessment Center has successfully disrupted hundreds of possible attacks, including an “anticipated” 150 this year, Holder said.

During his speech, Holder also told the police chiefs that relations between police officers and residents in some crime-prone areas must improve.

“We’ve seen all too often that some law enforcement officers believe that community residents tolerate and even encourage disrespect for the law — while some citizens feel that the police unfairly target them for mistreatment and abuse,” he said. “That’s why it’s time to declare, once and for all, that we must do better.”

Holder did not directly respond to remarks made by outgoing IACP president Craig Steckler immediately prior to his speech. Steckler said that most police chiefs disagree with the department’s recent decision to not challenge the new state laws permitting recreational marijuana use in Washington and Colorado.

“The decision by the U.S. Department of Justice, in our view, will open the floodgates for those who want to legalize marijuana throughout the country,” Steckler said, “those who have the resources to place initiatives and referendums on state ballots, and those who continue to profit from the sale of this unlawful drug.”

He said their disagreement over the issue is the exception, not the rule. Most of the justice department’s decisions are good for law enforcement, Steckler said.

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