Psychology of a shooter, reaction to recent violence

By Josh Harvison - bio | email

JONESBORO/PARAGOULD, AR (KAIT) – Over the last week, several shootings have been reported by various media outlets across the country. Friday, two police shootings happened in Region 8. They both happened Friday night in Paragould and Blytheville. This came on the same day in which a former employee opened fire in an Orlando office building, days after the Fort Hood shooting.

Region 8 News wanted to know what propels a person to commit violent offenses and what circumstances are put in place before police are allowed to use deadly force.

"There are times where you don't have time to check a demeanor because it happens so fast," said Captain Phillip Faulkner with the Paragould Police Department.

Faulkner said police are constantly checking their surroundings. They search for weapons and examine how a person is acting. Veteran police officers said they are able to walk into a room and point out what each person is doing, as well as what they look like.

"They're not listening to you. They're constantly sticking their hands in their pockets. They're putting their hands behind their back," said Faulkner, who has been in life or death situations during his 22 years as a police officer.

When talking about a police pursuit, Faulkner said he was apprehending a suspect when he learned he had a weapon.

"He got his hand in his coat and another officer arrived and mentioned something about a gun. I held him down and another officer took a knife and cut his jacket open and pried a pistol from his hand," said Faulkner.

Faulkner said things can change in a matter of seconds.

"No matter how small or how big it is, we respond. There are people that are known to be violent," said Faulkner. "Over time, you get to know people. You go to their house more than you go to other people's houses."


Paragould Police Chief Todd Stovall told Region 8 News Monday cadets are taught much differently these days in handling deadly force. In the past, cadets were taught to respond to violent offenders based on a ladder of action.

"We were taught on deadly force like a ladder. You had your officer presence and then your verbal commands, your chemical agent, then soft hand or controlling technique to a hard hand, which is more of fighting, to your impact weapon and finally, your deadly force which would your sidearm," said Faulkner.

Law enforcement agencies nowadays teach officers to respond based on the threat they face when they arrive on scene. If a person is wielding a weapon, officers are allowed to pull out their firearm.

"You're displaying deadly force when you draw your weapon," said Faulkner.

Faulkner said officers pull the trigger when the suspect does something threatening.

"Go ahead and draw your weapon and start issuing your commands. Based on their reaction is your reaction," said Faulkner.

According to Faulkner, police officers don't want to pull the trigger. He said it's just part of the job.

"That's something you think about all of the time. A lot of people think of us as cruel and heartless and we're not. We're your everyday people out on the street. Unfortunately, we have to deal with difficult situations," said Faulkner. "I hope to be going home to my family, my other officers going home to their families and the suspect going home to their family. It's not something taken lightly."


The shootings at Fort Hood and Orlando could have been prevented, according to family members and friends who knew the suspects. As in many cases, people close to the suspects noticed small changes in demeanor and attitude.

"There usually is one person or, many times, more than one person who is concerned before it happens. For whatever reason, they didn't intervene or they made their concerns known to authorities and authorities didn't intervene," said Dr. Phil Hestand, Director of Arkansas State University's Counseling Center and certified trainer for the Center for Aggression Management.

According to Hestand, there are a number of reasons suspects open fire and turn violent.

"Most people with psychiatric disorders are not violent. Most people who are violent don't have psychiatric disorders. People who have psychiatric disorders are more likely to be the victims rather than the aggressors, but occasionally that will happen," said Hestand. "Some people are just psychopaths and they really enjoy killing. There are just people who look for situations to be aggressive."

Hestand said key factors include depression, anxiety and frustration.

"Obviously lots of us get depressed and anxious from time to time and we don't respond in that way. These are people who feel backed into a corner or just at a point of despair," said Hestand. "They feel a profound sense of being unfair and they're responding, in a sense, getting even or fighting back."

Hestand said there is help available for people who feel like they can't control themselves.

"I think the hardest thing is helping them realize that there are other ways of dealing with it. Teaching people things like conflict management, conflict resolution and teaching people empathy," said Hestand. "I think there are people who don't see that there is help available for them. They don't recognize that help is there. There may be some people who feel they don't want to identify themselves as someone needing help."

For information on how to get help, click here.

"The FBI and Secret Service have done studies on people who commit these mass shootings and what they found is there's really not one single thing or constellation of things that will predict who will do this and who won't," said Hestand. "What we're talking about is the skill in coping with the stressors of life. You can't eliminate stress; you can only learn to manage it."

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