Dozens of Doral police officers were part of a spectacular training operation in the early hours of June 23 to neutralize groups of “kidnappers” holding numerous people hostage in a crowded mall.
Extreme situations like those in other American cities in recent years require that police officers be trained to respond immediately, said Doral Police Chief Richard Blom.
“Watching what happened in Columbine, when police officers waited outside the school while the SWAT specialized force arrived ... we can’t wait that long because tragedies occur in less than 15 minutes,” Blom said. “The community expects its police to neutralize whoever practices violence, and we have to be prepared for that.”
Shortly after 4 a.m., a first group of about 30 police officers began the drill with the inspection of their weapons, under the supervision of high-ranking instructors at the parking lot of the Miami International Mall, on Northwest 107th Avenue at 14th Street.
In this group was Cristina Escontrela, who in March became the first Venezuelan woman to be sworn in as a Doral police officer.
Shortly afterward, the police officers received the Code Red alert that notified them of the armed takeover of the mall’s food court. In a few minutes, having key information that warned them of a sniper on the roof of the place, the officers responded to the emergency.
“That information was provided by security guards of the mall,” Blom said. “That reflects the work the Doral police is doing in coordination with the community and with security at residential and commercial zones to guarantee public safety.”
After the first shots from the kidnappers, numerous volunteers who were part of the drill as mall customers went out running through one of the main entrances.
Seconds later, the police officers entered the mall showing recently acquired equipment such as armored helmets and anti-gas masks. The Deputy Chief Joe Seiglie said the special equipment was purchased within the last year and a half.
“During all this time we have improved the equipment of our officers,” Seiglie said. “At the same time, we are now improving the quality of training of all our officers.”
A camera installed on a drone that flew over the mall filmed the entire operation, capturing images of kidnappers, police officers and numerous victims fallen and bleeding on hallways. There were even dynamite cartridges connected to a cell phone. Nevertheless, the officers were able to capture the suspects in a matter of minutes.
A second drill operation began at 6 a.m. also at the area of restaurants of the mall. A total of 81 police officers took part as trainees with about 20 officers who supervised the training operation.
“It’s the first time our department is involved in this type of exercise,” Seiglie said. “Before, this type of exercise was exclusively done by specialized tacticians, but our philosophy is that all our officers need to be prepared for this type of high-risk situation.”