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Training in DHS APPS program-supplied gear, SLC S.W.A.T. members use a vehicle to approach a house occupied by a barricaded hostage taker. This technique safely moves operators closer to the target.

On February 12, 2007 at 6:44 pm, Sulejman Talovic, an 18-year-old Serbian immigrant, entered the Trolley Square Shopping Mall in Salt Lake City (SLC), Utah carrying a .38-caliber revolver, a 12-gauge shotgun, and a backpack with a belt-bandolier full of ammunition. What occurred next was a six-minute flurry of violence that left five innocent citizens murdered, four wounded and Talovic’s vicious spree cut short when he was outgunned and shot dead by Salt Lake City S.W.A.T.

The “active shooter” dispatch call came in just as SLC S.W.A.T. was going through its routine evening line up. Immediately, the six-man team rushed to their vehicles and to Trolley Square, a short two-minute drive from their Public Safety facility. Although initially unknown to the S.W.A.T. team, an off-duty police officer from neighboring Ogden, Utah was shopping with his family when he heard the initial shots ring out and made the 911 call.

An “active shooter” immediately creates a high-urgency situation. In such cases, a perpetrator has begun to take lives necessitating direct and immediate action to neutralize the threat and stop the loss of life. With the on-site intelligence provided by the Ogden policeman, the S.W.A.T. team divided into sub-units, deployed to multiple entrances, and began to collapse on Talovic’s last known position. One of the two-man teams made a fortuitous guess as to where they might best interdict Talovic and entered through the back of Trolley Square’s The Pottery Barn Kids store. Immediately upon entering the store and passing a small room filled with huddled shoppers, the officers heard two deafening shots and realized that they had entered the mall at precisely the same location where Talovic was murdering bystanders.

In a walking crouch, the two-man team moved quickly towards the sound of the gunfire amongst the display racks to within 5 yards of Talovic. The lead officer put four rounds into Talovic whereupon he wheeled towards them with a raised shotgun and was hit by a second volley from both officers in the store and another team that had simultaneously reached the source of the gunfire. Talovic was dead and the mall fell silent.

The rapid containment of the active shooter was a function of two major factors: (1) positive coincidence—the proximity of police station to the mall, an off-duty cop on site, and fortunate judgment calls by the S.W.A.T. team; and (2) focused and pragmatic training by a dedicated and professional tactical law enforcement unit. Pursuant to awareness raised by the Columbine High School shooting, SLC S.W.A.T. internally developed an active shooter response module into their training regimen and practiced it regularly. In the words of one S.W.A.T. operator on the scene, “It felt just like our training. We had an active shooter protocol that included identifying the shooter’s location, assessing the physical surroundings and tactical movement to the shooter. We reverted to that training in this situation and it saved our lives and ultimately many others. We got in front of Talovic just before he would have reached a room full of shoppers.” The Trolley Square incident is a perfect example of the proverb that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.

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