To appreciate the need for a new security paradigm, we have to understand the threats that businesses and communities now face.
Violent crime in the U.S. declined overall from the mid-1990s until about 2014, when it began to climb again. However, crime rates averaged across the nation are of little use to anyone; there is a tremendous variation in violent crime rates between regions, between urban and rural areas, and between particular urban areas. Violent threats to individuals, businesses, and institutions are changing in nature as well as in number; they are not what they were a generation ago, or even a few years ago, and we cannot safely extrapolate from statistical trends and characterizations which do not consider the evolving nature of these threats.
Violent threats to enterprises and communities are going to get worse; they are evolving rapidly and unpredictably. Traditional threats like violent crime, gang warfare, and terrorism have now been joined by the increasing incidence of violent civil unrest, lawless and unaccountable government, violence between political affiliations, and violence between illegal immigrants and both the state and its citizens, individual or organized. Escalating tensions are exacerbated by sensationalist media and hyper-partisan political adversaries.
Many of these threats are decentralized, meaning that they are not coordinated or disciplined by any organizing authority. Perhaps the first clear example of this was the rise of “lone wolf” domestic terrorists inspired by jihadist ideology but acting on their own initiative and not under command. The “anti-fascist” movement on the left and racist organizations across the entire political spectrum are similar in their lack of central organization and control. Accelerating polarization between religions, lifestyles, races, and politico-economic belief systems have set the stage for unprecedented upheaval.
The last two episodes of widespread violence in America that were not simple interpersonal crime were the urban riots of the 1960s and the leftwing revolutionary violence of the 1970s. These were, by comparisons to today’s multipolar tensions, relatively simple in their origins and purpose.
It’s necessary to separate behaviors from motivation and underlying causes, which are seldom evident at the “point of contact.” A classic example is the media spotlight that fixates our attention on “active shooters” and “mass shootings.” An active shooter, by the most common definition, is any individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a limited area, using a firearm. This definition says nothing about motivation – the shooter could be a disaffected high school student, a political or religious terrorist, a member of a street gang or organized crime, or just a mentally disturbed individual who may or may not have a coherent purpose or intended target. Anyone who kills four or more others who are not part of a family group or a rival criminal gang has created a “mass shooting.” The definitions and distinctions are interesting to social scientists, but on the scene it is simply gunfire and chaos continuing until someone, police or civilian, almost always with a firearm, stops the shooter, or he stops of his own volition.
The high consequence of a mass shooting incident – where on average there is one more victim every 6 to 8 seconds – rivets our attention, but there are many other forms of violence, lethal and otherwise, that should concern us, especially from the perspective of securing a business enterprise or institution. These include assault and battery without a firearm, armed robbery, sexual assault, mob violence, bombing, arson and other forms of sabotage, and more. Perpetrators range from individuals to affiliated groups, and actions may be spontaneous or pre-planned.
The single common denominator among all these threats is the mounting ineffectiveness of the state – the inability of the criminal justice system to deter lawless violence, and of the police to respond in time to protect us. This is why we say the answer to decentralized threats is distributed security: the presence of armed, trained volunteers on site, as individual citizens or as an organized security cadre who can respond immediately to protect life and property during the critical interval before law enforcement can intervene.