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Oregon Mall Shooting Highlights Importance of Police Partnerships with the Private Sector

By Leischen Stelter

When a masked gunman opened fire in a crowded mall outside of Portland, Oregon on Tuesday more than 100 law enforcement officers responded.  The first officers arrived on the scene in less than a minute, according to this USA Today article.

During a press conference on Wednesday, Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts said that 22-year-old Jacob Tyler Roberts used a stolen AR-15 semiautomatic rifle and appeared to shoot at random into crowds of mall shoppers.  The latest news reports said that two people were killed in the shooting and one remains hospitalized. Roberts died at the scene from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The numbers are staggering low, considering officials estimate there were approximately 10,000 holiday shoppers and store workers present in the mall at the time the gunman entered at 3:29 pm on Tuesday. The low-body count can be attributed to the fact that the gunman’s weapon jammed coupled with speculation that the gunman was likely unfamiliar with the powerful assault weapon, as reports indicate he had recently stolen it.

Upon arriving at the scene, deputies initiated their active shooter protocol, forming up in teams and immediately moving in to engage the threat. The Sheriff’s Department released a statement saying that that law enforcement personnel arriving on-scene executed this protocol to the highest standard, which can often be difficult since officers from different agencies are teamed up together on short notice.

You can listen to the audio of police radio traffic here.

One of the factors that aided in such a quick response was the fact that law enforcement had practiced this active-shooter technique at the Clackamas Town Center earlier this year. The Sheriff’s Department also praised the mall for their prompt and effective response to the crisis and attributed much of it to the fact that they had a plan in place for such an incident.

This incident is a good reminder of why it’s so critical for businesses to partner with law enforcement agencies.

Security departments need emergency plans for something like this so they have a plan about how to go into lockdown and coordinate with police. It is also critical for police to reach out and partner with the security department for increased situational awareness. In the audio of the radio traffic, an officer asks the dispatcher whether or not the security department has been engaged. “Can we try security and see if they have eyes on this guy?” one officer is heard asking (see timestamp 1:43). Later in the audio recording, at timestamp 4:15, an officer inquires whether or not police are stationed in the security office.

Law enforcement agencies have recognized the benefits of engaging private sector security departments in these types of drills, which hasn’t always been the case. Charles Russo, who has been in law enforcement since 1987 and is currently a criminal justice professor for American Military University, said that the higher caliber of private security officers has opened the door for better partnerships between police and security. Many private security officers are former law enforcement officers or military veterans who have the experience and training to work closer with law enforcement agencies. In some cases, Russo said, security officers have access to police radios and some are even directly associated with an agency as reserve officers with arrest powers.

Conducting active threat exercises jointly can be beneficial for both law enforcement and private entities. First of all, it is an opportunity for law enforcement agencies to familiarize themselves with the layout of a facility. In this case, the Clackamas Town Center is one of the largest malls in Oregon, at 1.4 million square feet and housing more than 185 stores as well as a 20-screen movie theater. By conducting training exercises in the facility, police become familiar with the setting and are able to move quickly and efficiently through the building during an incident.

These drills can also be beneficial for the facility officials. Running onsite active-shooter drills educates them about what to expect from police during an event. For example, as part of the active-shooter protocol, the first officers on the scene move in to engage and stop the threat immediately and do not stop to help those who may be wounded. It is important for the facility to understand this technique so they are not surprised when police do not aid the wounded upon initial entrance on the scene.

Similarly, if facility staff has an opportunity to practice their response, they are better educated about what to do when the real thing happens. “If something happens for the first time and a person has never been exposed to it, it takes time to process the information, formulate an answer and execute it,” said Russo. “But if someone has been through a training scenario that is similar, hopefully they can take out some of those steps and immediately recognize a situation and execute the response.”

In addition to conducting joint on-site drills, the facility can also aid police by sharing their video systems during an incident. Many malls and other public facilities are equipped with CCTV networks and these systems can help police quickly determine and identify real-time threats.

While this remains a tragic and senseless act of violence that has killed and traumatized innocent people, it is a good reminder of the importance of building strong partnerships between law enforcement and the private sector. No one can stop these acts from happening, but by reaching out, engaging, preparing and practicing with one another, law enforcement and those in the private sector can help mitigate the damage caused by these types of incidents.

Leischen Kranick is a Managing Editor at AMU Edge. She has 15 years of experience writing articles and producing podcasts on topics relevant to law enforcement, fire services, emergency management, private security, and national security.

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