SWAT, bomb squads practice shooter scenario

By Anna Carrera

Published 06/04 2014 06:23AM

Updated 06/04 2014 06:19PM

Latest: 6:03 pm
CHAMPAIGN -- What would you do if a there was an active shooter at the mall? That's the question dozens of SWAT and bomb squad officers tried to answer as they did training overnight. There were no flashing lights or police sirens at the Market Place Mall, but the officers suited up for a reason.

"We received a call that an officer with Sears was shot," said Champaign Police Department spokesperson Rene Dunn, who acted as a media liaison during the training.

That's all SWAT officers knew at first. They surrounded the stores to prepare for what may be inside.

"Adrenaline is there," said Champaign SWAT Officer Aaron Lack. "Not quite like real life, but you try to make it as real as you can."

As things went on, the situation got more complicated.

"It's considered a suspicious vehicle at this time," said Dunn.

That sparked the bomb squad's interest. The team took a robot across the parking lot to check it out.

"The more intricate it is, the more fun it is for us, to give us more of a chance to exercise some things we haven't before," said University of Illinois Sgt. Aaron Landers, who was the commander for the bomb squad.

While some crews were working from the outside in, others were already inside, trying to negotiate with the suspects and find out just what happened to start all of it.

"Our main priority is the hostages inside," said Lack. "We had quite a few hostages. We knew that in the scenario."

"Right now we have one male suspect in custody," said Dunn, at the next press briefing.

"Everything's going really good so far," said Champaign Police Department Lt. Jim Clark, who was organizing the event.

But not everything went perfectly. A light which flashed inside the "suspicious" minivan meant something triggered the fake bomb. But officers say it's better to make mistakes in training than sometime down the road.

"That also gives us food for thought whenever we actually roll onto a real device," said Landers. "Then we have an idea, like we really don't want to do this or we really don't want to do that."

"Two people are in custody at this point," said Dunn.

Organizers had a few more plans for the night, but had to wrap up early because of bad weather.

"You always have to be fluid with these events and you may have to change things on the fly depending on exactly what happens," said Clark.

Officers say it was good practice, but hope this was the closest they get to the real thing.

"If we're going to have some kind of a terrorist attack or something like that, it's going to be at a mall or someplace open so it gives us a real feeling on what it would be like," said Landers.

About 30 volunteers came to act as hostages. Many of them were members of the Illinois National Guard or students from Parkland's criminal justice program.

The individual units met after training to go over how to improve for next time. They usually have one of these big training sessions every year.
Update: 6:29 am
CHAMPAIGN -- While you're waking up, some police officers are just going to bed. SWAT and bomb squad teams were doing overnight training at Market Place Mall. There were teams around the mall outside and more inside.

The scenario started around 10 pm Tuesday night. All the squads knew was a security officer had been shot at Sears. They later found out there were several suspects involved and they were holding hostages in the mall. Even though it was a training exercise, officers took it seriously. They say it's important to test out possible scenarios to prepare in case something similar actually does happen.

"We would much rather make a wrong decision at a training event than at a real event," said Champaign Police Department Lt. Jim Clark, who was organizing the training. "You learn by mistakes, so that's absolutely why we're out here. If we make a mistake, we'll talk about it."

Organizers had a loose plan in place for how they wanted the scenario to play out, but they had to cut it short because of the weather. 
Original: 5:17 am
CHAMPAIGN -- SWAT and bomb squad members did some training Tuesday night at Market Place Mall. This was a pretty big training exercise, so they needed space to make it feel as realistic as possible. Organizers say between 60 and 70 members of Champaign and METRO SWAT were there.

All officers knew was there was a security officer that got shot and they had to figure out the rest. While SWAT officers were trying to find out who shot the security guard, the bomb squad was outside. They used the robot to try to diffuse an explosive in a suspicious car. 

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