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Boulder shooting sparks review of protocols – has police on higher alert

(Photo: Kevin Mohatt, Reuters)

SALT LAKE CITY — The deadly shooting in Boulder this week could create a ripple effect felt by law enforcement in nearby areas, including Utah.  And police officials say they’re hoping people remind themselves of the simple steps that can act as a defense in an active shooter situation.

The best thing to do in an active shooter scenario is to run, according to former FBI agent Karl Schmae.  Obvious, right?  Maybe, but Schmae says it takes some planning, which too few people are doing.

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“That means you need to have situational awareness.  You have to know where those exits are,” he said.

Hiding is the next best thing to do after running away, Schmae said.  This means you have to find the best ways to barricade yourself into a secure area and silence your cell phone.  In the worst-case scenario, you may have to fight that shooter. That means you’d need to look for anything that could be used as a weapon. A heavy object, a pointed object, or anything that will take the shooter by surprise.

This is a necessary discussion albeit a difficult discussion to have Schmae said.

We need to talk to our family and we need to talk to our kids, even though it’s a scary situation.

“We’ve seen in Boulder, and we’ve seen elsewhere, that this can happen anywhere,” said Schmae.

The suspect, social media, and possible motives

After his release from a hospital, the Boulder suspect was jailed. Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa has a single third-degree assault charge in his criminal history according to the Reuters news agency. Police are certain he acted alone.

Analysts say police will be combing over Alissa’s social media posts to see if there were any warning signs that should have indicated this kind of attack was going to happen.  However, Utah Valley University Criminal Justice Professor Dan Waddington said it’s extremely hard to accurately predict who would plan this kind of shooting.

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Social media may be one of the best tools people can use to spot a potential problem.  Waddington said if someone posts comments that are to the extreme of the political right or the political left, and if they post messages saying certain groups of people deserve to be hurt, you may need to call your local authorities.

“Any type of acquisition of weapons or explosive materials is obviously an indicator,” he said.

Waddington said many people want to lump every mass attack under the definition of terrorism, but that’s not always the case.  He said a terrorist act is prompted by an ideology and not every mass shooter has that type of motive. 

However, it’s likely officers all over the region are becoming extra vigilant at looking out for potential problems he said.

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“Any time you have a violent act like this, particularly when a law enforcement officer is injured or killed, other law enforcement agencies are much more sensitive to those potential acts,” he says.

Even if a mass shooter cites ideological reasons, it’s possible investigators would keep that information a secret.  Waddington says officers don’t want to inspire copycat attacks by people with similar beliefs.