DOI: 10.1177/14613557231188577 ISSN: 1461-3557

Applying the terror management theory to active shooter events: Explaining the police response

Scott W Phillips
  • Law

After the active shooting incident in Columbine, Colorado, the police response to these events changed. Rather than have the first responding officers secure the perimeter and wait for a special weapons and tactics team, police officers have been trained to move quickly to engage and neutralize a shooter. The expectation is that an officer will prioritize the lives of victims over their own. This approach is contrary to the police culture of surviving dangerous encounters. This article presents a discussion of terror management theory as a possible explanation for why some officers may fail to perform according to contemporary expectations, and why some officers may willingly place themselves in positions in which their lives are threatened. This examination is followed by a discussion of policy and research implications.

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