An estimated 200 to 250 law enforcers from nearly every agency in the Salt Lake Valley responded to Monday night's shooting rampage at Trolley Square. But rather than widespread miscommunication, police say the coordination among all the different departments went about as smoothly as could be expected.
More than 100 members of the Salt Lake City Police Department alone, or nearly one-quarter of the entire force, responded to Trolley Square. Some officers simply responded straight to the mall and checked in later rather than clogging the airwaves by telling dispatchers of their intentions.
Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder responded to the crime scene along with more than 50 members of the sheriff's office to offer assistance. Within just 15 minutes, the city police department began using incident command principles, he said. It's a tactic that firefighters have used for years but is relatively new to police agencies, he said.
Under such a structure, responding officers form tactical units which communicate with one tactical commander for instructions. Winder said he was the tactical commander for his department. Although he is sheriff, he followed the orders of Salt Lake City police who took the lead in commanding because Trolley was in their jurisdiction, he said.
For most of the night, the tactical commanders from each agency sat in the back of a mobile command unit, getting instructions from Salt Lake City police's incident commander and then passing those orders along to their own officers.
The result was a dramatic decrease in the amount of traffic on the police radios, he said. If police did not use an incident command structure, two-way traffic on the radio could have been so tied up that no one got any information out, he said.
"Can you imagine 100 cops each clicking the mic six times a minute?" he asked.
Both police and fire routinely point to the coordination effort between different agencies during the Salt Lake tornado of 1999 as the prime example of communication breakdown. Winder said there were four different command posts established by different agencies during that incident and no one could talk to each other because cell-phone coverage was jammed.
Since the 2002 Winter Olympics, however, police agencies have had the ability to use each other's radio frequencies. The sheriff's office and most other agencies actually worked on Salt Lake City's dispatch channel Monday night. The advantage to that is if officers from several different agencies are joined in the same tactical unit, they are all able to communicate with each other, Winder said.Comment on this story
"It worked as well as I've seen it. Not perfectly, we still got some bugs to work out. But you could see the skeleton there. This is how it's supposed to work," he said.
Winder had high praise for the Salt Lake City Police Department and how quickly it coordinated response efforts.
"I thought it really was done well. The city had a very clear plan of what they wanted done and in what order. Once we figured out there was no second suspect, things really (calmed) down," he said.That "second suspect" turned out to be off-duty Ogden police officer Ken Hammond, who traded gunfire with teenage gunman Sulejman Talovic. Although Hammond repeatedly identified himself as a police officer during the gunfight, most likely witnesses faraway only saw a civilian with a gun.