Police in Utah discuss evolution of active shooter trainings

Posted at 9:43 PM, Nov 27, 2015
and last updated 2015-11-27 23:51:08-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Unified Police are always ready to go, in case they get the call police in Colorado Springs got on Friday.

“We hear gunfire and we go after it,” Lieutenant Lex Bell said. “That's our goal, is to stop the ongoing loss of life.”

While they don’t respond to active shooter situations often, Lt. Bell has been in this kind of scenario.

He said several years ago, “We had a man with a shotgun who was walking through the parking lot, had fired shots at some residents.”

They knew how to handle it, and what to do to keep people safe.

But Lt. Bell said active shooter situations are evolving. What happened in Colorado Springs proves it.

“We're seeing a lot more where they're planning counter attacks on responding officers, and it's continually getting more dangerous,” he said.

In Colorado Springs, the suspect did shoot at police. An officer was among the victims who died.

And it’s shootings like the one in Colorado Springs that have an impact on how departments like Unified PD train and strategize for those situations.

Police response has morphed in the last several years.

“We've changed,” Lt. Bell said, to a “more aggressive approach to dealing with these.”

Lt. Bell said in the past, when responding to a shooting, police would typically set a perimeter and wait for the SWAT team to show up as they tried to secure what was going on.

But now, they jump in right away and will do what it takes to stop the person and the situation.

Take the 2007 shooting in Trolley Square that left five people dead, for example. A man opened fire in the mall, and police eventually shot him.

If that were to happen today?

“I think we would be more quick now, and be ready to get to him,” Lt. Bell said. “We would start the hunt faster, and that's basically what it is. We’re hunting the person who is killing people.”

They're also training more than they have in past years for that hunt, as they see more shootings unfold across the country.

And, he said, there’s a huge push nationwide for agencies to get on the same page with training and response to active shooter situations.

Unified PD has been training and coordinating with other departments, Bell said.

“Probably dozens of different training classes that we do,” he said. “Every officer goes through several mandatory trainings that have to do with rapid response.”

Bell said they need to be prepared physically and mentally when the moment comes, so they can stop it at all costs.

“When I see that these things happen, it just brings home to me how much, just that much more that we really are training to save people's lives,” he said, adding that, “It's not if, but when.”