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Ask a Cop: What do I do if there is an active shooter?

Ask a Cop: What do I do if there is an active shooter?

Estimated read time: 10-11 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY -- In light of the anniversary of the Virginia Tech shootings and the numerous and ongoing mass shootings that seem to happen in our country, I decided I should write about what you can do to survive a mass shooting event. I spoke to a colleague of mine who is one of the foremost experts in mass shootings in Utah and has made presentations to different groups throughout the country.

Should you be worried about a mass shooter? Should you be worried about a fire, earthquake or flood? We practice fire and earthquake drills at school and work all the time. The result of these drills has been a dramatic decrease in fatalities related to the events we prepare for. Why are schools and businesses not practicing for the active mass shooters?

If you’re saying the schools and businesses have lockdown procedures in place and that’s good enough, I say it is not. A lot of the mass shooters know the location in which they target, whether they were a disgruntled employee, student or customer. A person set on planning a mass shooting is doing just that … planning. He is walking through the area, spotting security or problems and seeing what routes he wants to take.


The problem with a lockdown and nothing else is it usually requires a warning from authorities or some other sign to notify the people to respond and lock down the building. What if the person is already in the building and it is locked down?

My colleague and I support Dave Grossman’s strategy of deter, detect, delay and destroy. I have told my wife and family the same as I am going to relay to you now.


This step is mainly for the owner or operator of the building that could be a target of a mass shooter. Buildings should always be evaluated to see where weaknesses are and what steps could be taken to keep a shooter from picking the establishment. This could involve having a larger presence of security, more windows, lighting or security cameras and posters or material that state we report all suspicious activity. Every business or school should have a plan to alert the occupants of threats and clearly defined escape routes or safe rooms to flee to.


This is identifying possible threats, whether it’s a suspicious person or a disgruntled person making threats about violence. I am sure that people have overheard a person saying he should “blow this place up" or "life is not worth living anymore.” What may sound like something said to blow off steam may actually happen if not reported. What if that student had not come forward with the information about the two boys with the bomb plot at Roy High School?


This is where the lockdown comes into play. Once the shooter has made entrance into the building, you need to delay him getting to you or others for as long as possible until police can get there. It may be running to any exit or window you can or barricading yourself wherever you have the best chance for a shooter not to get at you. Evacuating or locking down, “access denial” should be everyone’s survival strategy. Most shooters pick the easiest targets, the ones that freeze or cower in fear. It is much easier to hit a stationary target than one that is moving.

I found that the survivability rate of persons delaying or denying access to rooms with victims went up dramatically.

I don’t pretend to be an expert in mass shootings, especially the shooting at Virginia Tech, but reading the numerous reports and conferring with my colleague who is an expert, I found that the survivability rate of persons delaying or denying access to rooms with victims went up dramatically. In Trolley Square, Ken Hammond delayed Sulejman Talovic from access to other victims by engaging him with his handgun until police could respond and ultimately overwhelm Talovic.


If a shooter chooses your site (room, building, etc..) you must respond quickly and forcefully. Most shooters are not in a state of mind for negotiating, this is why most shooters end up shooting themselves at the end of the rampage. If you find yourself in a room, with no escape routes, with the shooter, I would say fight and move. Anything in that room is a weapon, whether it be chair, monitor, trophy or whatever you can get your hands on. It is hard for a shooter to aim when he’s ducking. This is a pure impulse to survive. Just like the passengers of a plane who are taking out a possible hijacker, you are in that same situation.

If the shooter passes by or the police arrive, try to stay as calm as possible and have empty hands when the police approach you. Tend to the victims as best you can, whether it's to apply pressure to wounds or keep them calm. This is a chaotic and stressful situation. You being the calm in the storm will help others to do the same.

You can always amend a big plan, but you can never expand a little one. I don't believe in little plans. I believe in plans big enough to meet a situation which we can't possibly foresee now.

–President Harry S. Truman

Much of this may seem daunting, and a lot of people just pretend that it will never happen. This is absolutely the wrong way to think. You should have a practiced plan for most traumatic events whether it be fire, earthquake, shooters or others. I have sat down with my family and discussed what we would do in certain situations. Now I'm not saying you need to wake your family up at 1 a.m. for a fire drill, but sitting down and talking about it is a step in the right direction.

If we were in the mall and we heard shooting, I have planned with my wife for her to grab our kids and head the opposite way of the shooting and to the nearest exit and keep heading away. I would remain and attempt to stop the threat (only if I was armed at the time). She wasn’t too fond of this plan for my own safety, but she understands why it needs to be that way.

So I ask you to check with your children’s schools, your places of business or religious buildings and make sure they have a plan in place. If they don’t, take the lead and put one in place. Evaluate what could be done better or contact your local police department to assist you in putting a plan in place.

“You can always amend a big plan, but you can never expand a little one. I don't believe in little plans. I believe in plans big enough to meet a situation which we can't possibly foresee now,” former President Harry S. Truman said.

Now for the questions:

Dear Officer Anonymous,

I have a question about driving in West Valley on Bangeter Highway. With the redesigned intersections, you have to make a right turn and the left-turn people are making a turn into your lanes at the same time, who has the right of way? An example is the 4700 South intersection arrangement. — Thanks, Joe


The person with the green light has the right of way. Generally my experience with those lights is that the right turners usually have a no turn light until the left turners are clear.

Dear Officer Anonymous,

Ask a Cop: What do I do if there is an active shooter?

Why is it that we have people complaining about the state of our air quality but I see people driving their turbo- charged diesel trucks that blow out all kinds of black soot and fumes that choke out everyone around them? I’ve talked to some of these people and asked how they get past the emissions test. Their reply, “I just take out my chip and put the stock one in.” I’ve seen these trucks leave an intersection like in a drag race leaving their cloud behind them with a police car near. Why are they not pulled over? We should have some sort of portable air tester with the officers. If they pull over a truck that does this and it does not pass the portable test they they are escorted to one of the official test sites. If they fail, they have X amount of days to come and pass the test. If this happens more than twice, then the vehicle owner is fined a substantial amount. If the air quality is such an issue, why can this not be done? And if it can, why isn’t it? — Gregg


I completely agree with you and dislike a diesel accelerating in front of me, blowing smoke all over my vehicle and coming through my vents. However, there is allowance for a diesel truck to emit a certain amount of smoke while accelerating as long as it does not continue to emit a dark smoke that is darker than 20 percent opacity (whatever that means) if the truck was built after 1973.

Dear Officer Anonymous,

If I am traveling in the HOV lane and doing the speed limit and another vehicle comes up behind me going faster, do I need to yield to that person? Does the responsibility rest on the slower car, as in the fast lane, or does the faster car have to get out of the HOV lane, pass and then get back in the HOV lane? — Chris

Ask a Cop: What do I do if there is an active shooter?

Chris,If you are doing the speed limit, I see no reason to even use the HOV lane. It's just as safe to use the furthest right lane and cruise at that slower speed. Plus, the exits are a lot easier to get to.

Dear Officer Anonymous,

If someone gets pulled over by a police officer, does that someone have the right to refuse an on-the-scene blood test? I know someone who got her driver's license suspended for six months for refusing to alow the officer to do a blood test. Isn’t that an invasion of privacy, and also guilty before being proven so, and punishment without due process? — Just wondering


If you were stopped for an investigation of DUI or were involved in a serious crash and showed signs of impairment, a blood draw can be performed. It all depends on circumstances, and officers have to justify their actions. But specifically during a DUI investigation, if you refuse a test — blood or breath or urine — your license can be suspended.

Dear Officer Anonymous,

I work in old town Midvale and drive 7th West southbound every afternoon. Over the past four to five months, I have noticed that every night between 5 and 6:30 p.m. there is a marked or unmarked police vehicle (depending on the day) sitting in one of two places at one of two businesses on the west side of the road. They are not radaring anyone and seem to just be sitting there either inside the partially closed gate at one business or sitting right outside the other. Why are they sitting there and what are they doing? — T.J.


A lot of the times officers will find places that are a nice area to write reports or they are getting a good signal for their laptop/MDT. The best thing to do if you want to know what they are doing is to go up and speak with them.

The opinions in this article are my own and do not reflect a specific government or agency. This is also not legal advice and should not be taken as such. Send questions to

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