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Security expert: Some crime inevitable on military bases

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Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 01:58 AM
TAMPA -

As Texas' former terror czar and current vice president of intelligence for the security firm Stratfor, Fred Burton is familiar with shooting situations at a military base. His Austin-based firm did a lot of research on the topic after November's mass shooting at Fort Hood.

Wednesday's shooting of a disabled Army veteran by an off-duty FBI agent at MacDill Air Force Base is vastly different than what happened at the Texas base, where 13 people were killed and dozens more were wounded, but there is a common thread, Burton said.

Military bases are like small cities. And even small cities have crime problems.

There is no way to eliminate crime at military bases any more than you can in a small city, Burton said.

"Just due to the sheer volume and number of visitors, there are going to be custody disputes, domestic complaints," he said. "A military base is just a window into society at large. You are not going to be able to prevent these kinds of things from happening."

Ronald J. Bullock, a 61-year-old disabled Army veteran, got into an altercation at MacDill's Family Camp recreation area, where he had been living, investigators said. He then sped away on his motorcycle toward the Dale Mabry Highway gate, investigators said. He got off his motorcycle, and, armed with a knife, lunged at an off-duty FBI agent, who fatally shot him, investigators said.

Bullock's uncle, Phil Sullivan, said Bullock was "100 percent disabled" with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his military service in Vietnam. Sullivan said Bullock tried to cope by taking a lot of medication.

Personal weapons of any kind are prohibited at MacDill, said 2nd Lt. Mark Graff, 6th Air Mobility Wing chief of public affairs. Knives, switchblades, butterfly knives and any nonutility knives with concealable blades and nonutility knives with blades longer than three inches are prohibited, he said.

Graff did not know what type of knife investigators say Bullock had. The FBI is leading the investigation and not releasing details.

Once the investigation into the Bullock shooting is completed, "base security forces will review all policies and procedures to determine if any require updates or changes," Graff said.

The base security's response to the situation was "consistent with policies and procedures," Graff said.

But the fact that Bullock had a knife should not be shocking, Burton said.

"If you compare what happened at MacDill to the Fort Hood shooting, where people were surprised that you could bring weapons onto a military base, the reality is: How are you going to police it?" Burton said.

The military, he said, makes visitors to its bases register firearms. But knives?

"Clearly, this is not the kind of issue that the military has the bandwith to deal with, nor do they even want to go there," he said. "The ability to get weapons onto a base is pretty easy to do."

After reviewing media accounts, Burton said the FBI agent's actions appeared justified. The media reports were based on information disseminated by investigators.

"I think if you look at it in the context of the actions of the suspect, clearly this was a deadly force scenario," he said.

An FBI Shooting Incident Response Team is investigating, according to FBI spokesman Dave Couvertier, and a report is expected in about two weeks. The response team is looking at whether the agent exhibited the proper use of deadly force and followed bureau policy. The FBI has not identified the agent.

Because MacDill is in the city, Tampa police sometimes get involved in situations there, police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said.

The decision to get Tampa police involved in MacDill investigations is made on a case-by-case basis, she said.

"We work together to decide how each incident should be handled," she said.

Initially, the investigation into the Bullock case was going to be handled by Tampa police because of the department's experience with shooting situations, McElroy said.

"We have a shooting team readily available that does investigations on a frequent basis," she said. "It is a much rarer occurrence for the military to investigate a shooting."

When it was determined that an off-duty FBI agent shot Bullock, the FBI was given the responsibility of leading the investigation, she said.

Aside from Wednesday's shooting, Tampa police have responded to the Dale Mabry gate seven times since March 2000. Charges ranged from false 911 calls to drug possession. This was the first shooting Tampa police have responded to at that gate.


Reporter Howard Altman can be reached at (813) 259-7629.

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