AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin police credit Bennu Coffee customers for trying to subdue a suspect who later was accused of stabbing two people Friday, possibly preventing more violence. But, the agency warns against always taking such measures.
“It was extremely important that they intervened and got involved and detained the individual,” said APD Sgt. David Daniels. “We don’t recommend individuals getting involved in a situation, but they chose to do that. And, it was helpful.”
With recent high-profile attacks like this week’s shooting during a north Texas church service when armed volunteer security and congregants shot and killed the suspect, KXAN received viewer feedback about when or even if a civilian should try to subdue an attacker. And, what if law enforcement is not around at the time? Experts at Texas State University tell KXAN the average response time for police is three minutes.
KXAN Investigators have worked with those experts at the school’s Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) to analyze data in more than 300 mass attacks in the U.S. since 2000, discovering about half of the events ended before law enforcement arrived on the scene. In those instances, the attacker either stopped themselves or was stopped by a civilian.
“In the data that we have for active attacks, there’s been 50 events that the civilian actually stopped the attacker,” said Dr. Hunter Martindale, who leads ALERRT’s research division. “Ten of those, they’ve shot them with a firearm, and then 40 of them they’ve physically subdued them in some manner.”
ALERRT said that could include civilians pinning attackers to the ground with their hands until law enforcement arrives, but it can be risky to take such action. KXAN pointed ALERRT to a handful of attacks when civilians were killed trying to subdue an attacker – like the 1980 mass shooting in a church in Daingerfield, Texas. Two parishioners who tackled the shooter were shot and killed in the process.
“It does happen,” Martindale said. “If they have to defend themselves, it’s a personal decision. But, yeah, it can end badly for them.”
ALERRT emphasizes the need for civilian response training to better respond to mass attacks, teaching tactics on how to avoid and defend yourself in such situations. Since its inception, ALERRT estimates its training has been taught to at least 400,000 civilians nationwide.
“Sometimes it’s not a decision,” ALERRT Assistant Director John Curnutt added. “The decision has been made for you, because it is happening. You are going to do something or not. You are going to own a situation, or it’s going to own you. That’s the only option you have at that point.”
ALERRT said it is impossible to quantify the number of lives saved when civilians intervene but that its research suggests specific training can help lower the death count. In recent years, the group has added medical intervention training to its curriculum.
“Our job is to make sure that everyone is as prepared as they can be and can operate as well as expected under extremely adverse and chaotic situations,” Curnutt said.
ALERRT trains law enforcement at its facility in Maxwell, Texas, and at various sites across the nation. Once those officers are trained, they can work with schools, churches and businesses to filter training down to civilians. Trainers tell KXAN people can ask law enforcement agencies to set up the training, however, there is currently a waitlist due to high demand and limited government funding.
“We don’t want to say, ‘No,’” Curnutt said. “But it is very often that we have to say, ‘Not yet,’ because we’re out of funding. The demand has not stopped.”
State lawmakers focusing on mass violence solutions tell KXAN they will push for more money for ALERRT to expand its services in the next legislative session in 2021.