SALT LAKE CITY — Lt. Andy Oblad can look back on the majority of his law enforcement career with positive memories.
"There were a lot of times where I felt like I was making a difference in people’s lives,” he said.
But during his 21 years of service to Salt Lake City, Oblad also recalled, "I had two really bad days in law enforcement."
The first was Feb. 12, 2007. The second was last month, Sept. 28, during the last shift of his career with Salt Lake police.
On both those days, Oblad had to use his gun to protect citizens and his own co-workers.
"My worst two days were Trolley Square and the day at the Maverik,” he told the Deseret News. "They’re just hard. They’re just hard things to do as an officer."
In 2007, Oblad was among the first officers to enter Trolley Square to confront Sulejman Talović, 18, who randomly opened fire on unsuspecting shoppers, killing five and wounding four others.
Then on Sept. 28, Oblad responded as backup to a call for help from Salt Lake police officer Gregory Lovell, who was trying to stop Michael Bruce Peterson, 39, for questioning.
As Oblad stepped out of his patrol car, he could see Peterson punch Lovell in the face and then grab the officer's baton and use it against him. Oblad confronted Peterson in the parking lot of Maverik on the corner of 300 South and 500 East.
"He says, ‘Oh, you want some of this?’ And grabs that baton like a baseball bat and starts running at me. And that’s when I think, ‘OK, you don’t want to give up,’” Oblad recalled.
He shot Peterson, who died from his injuries. The shooting was ruled to be legally justified by the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office.
The lieutenant, who had previously announced his retirement, was supposed to work through that weekend. But when he was placed on standard paid administrative leave due to the shooting, it resulted in that being his last shift in uniform.
Although Oblad and his colleagues were hailed as heroes for their efforts at Trolley Square, officer-involved shootings, he said, are not glorious or as "exciting" as they are in the movies.
Officers involved in shootings are often judged by members of the public. And sometimes the public perception can be negative, and the pressure it puts on a family is often difficult.
Oblad has received numerous accolades throughout his career, and he's held in high regard by his peers. He has enjoyed providing service to others, and likes getting out and interacting with the public.
While he is humble and prefers not to be the focus of attention, Oblad likes being a mentor to others, particularly the city's youth. In fact, it was a police officer who lived in his neighborhood when he was growing up — his own mentor — who convinced Oblad to give a law enforcement career a try.
But it wasn't because of what his neighbor and other officers in his neighborhood did at work that prompted him to try become a cop. Oblad said it was the fact that they were "good men" at home.
The first time Oblad thought about a career in law enforcement was when he was a little boy, he said. The excitement of driving a patrol car was, at that time, the most alluring part of being an officer.
That dream eventually faded. But it was renewed when officers in Oblad's neighborhood told him he should think about applying.
Oblad, who graduated from Alta High School and served an LDS Church mission to Colombia, did not come from a law enforcement family. The idea of becoming a bad police stereotype — having a moustache and wearing mirrored sunglasses — did not appeal to him, he said.
But because his neighbors were also leaders in their communities, he gave it a try.
Oblad was 24 when he was hired by the Salt Lake City Police Department in 1996. He started as a patrol officer, a position he worked for about two years before getting into the motorcycle unit.
He was on the Salt Lake Motor Squad during the 2002 Winter Olympics. From there, he was assigned to be a school resource officer at East High and Glendale Middle schools.
Those were enjoyable assignments, said Oblad, who liked interacting with youths.
"Most of the kids in that area where I was working needed a good male role mentor. So it was a fun job — more like a coach than a policeman,” he said.
After being promoted to sergeant, Oblad was on the team that investigates serious traffic incidents. He then moved onto the bike squad and patrolled the Rio Grande area. Again, he found the interaction with business owners and the community rewarding because he was able to help someone every day.
Oblad worked in Internal Investigations for two years, a position he also found rewarding because he felt as though he was able to watch over his co-workers and make sure false accusations made against them were resolved, while those who did wrong were taken care of fairly.
He finished his career being promoted to lieutenant and working special operations downtown.
In 2007, Oblad was among five officers honored for their actions during the Trolley Square tragedy.
"In Trolley Square, they came out in the media saying we were heroes, and we did everything right. And that’s probably the best-case scenario if you’re involved in a shooting,” he said.
But even when speaking now about that day, Oblad becomes emotional as he recalls "clearing" the mall after the gunman had been shot and killed by police.
Oblad went into a restaurant and could hear people inside a small walk-in cooler.
"There’s about 10 people inside this little walk-in cooler, scared to death — scared to death they’re going to die," he said.
Oblad led the group out of the cooler to the stairs where a security guard was standing and told the group the security guard would take them outside. But the group, knowing the guard was as scared as they were, refused to go without Oblad.
"As I’m walking, I’m seeing little kids that are the same age as my kids, crying. And I put my arm around a kid (and said), ‘You’re fine. He can’t hurt you.’ And that’s when I realized how much pain one bad guy causes to people,” he said while wiping away tears.
Oblad recalls being angry that one person could cause so much fear. He didn't like how some residents were afraid to go shopping for weeks after the incident. He also didn't like that his then-8-year-old daughter couldn't escape from hearing about the shooting even at her age at school.
Two months after the shooting, Oblad was with his wife in a mall shopping for shoes when he started looking at the door.
"And my wife looks at me and (asks), ‘What are you thinking?’ 'I’m thinking what am I going to do if someone walks in with a gun right there. How am I going to handle that?' And she says, ‘Really?’ I said, 'Yeah, that’s what goes through my head.' And so it’s hard to turn it off. And I don’t think we can turn it off because I think we have a duty to act and be ready.
"But it wears on you. It wears on your family. I try not to bring it home."
On Sept. 28, Oblad found himself once again in a situation where the use of deadly force was necessary.
Up until that point, he recalled that it had been a slow day. In fact, he described most days of police work as uneventful. But that all changed in less than a minute, he said.
As Oblad got out of his patrol car to assist Lovell, he initially reached for his pepper spray. But when Peterson grabbed the officer's baton and started beating him, Oblad pulled out his gun.
Still, the last thing he wanted to do was shoot.
"I’m thinking, ‘Can’t we just work this out? Please stop what you’re doing. I’m set to retire in a week. I don’t want to shoot you.’ And I’m yelling, ‘Police! Stop! Police! Stop!’ And I’m giving him every chance to drop that baton," he said, while thinking, "I don’t want to shoot you."
But when Peterson came at him holding the baton like a baseball bat, Oblad said he had no choice but to shoot.
Oblad said he doesn't regret any of the choices he has made at work during his career. The bottom line, he said, is "I like helping people. I like the part of helping others and taking care of others."
That's why he was happy to go to lunch with Lovell, who suffered a broken nose and ankle during the attack, and see him smiling.
When asked to recall a good day at work, Oblad recounted a time when he was asked to check on a girl who hadn't been to school in a while. He found her and her brother living in a motel on North Temple with their mother, who was a drug addict.
Although it was a sad situation, Oblad was pleased that he was able to help someone get out of a bad predicament.
As Oblad made his plans for retirement, he was already thinking about joining another police department in a year so he could collect money from his pension and continue working. He thought it would be OK since throughout his career his wife had always told their friends, "I don’t worry about him. I know he’ll be OK."
But when Oblad told his wife about possibly getting another job as a uniformed officer on the street, she questioned why he would want to do that.
"What about all those years you said you weren't worried?" he asked her.
"Well, I never had a choice, but now I do,” he recalled her saying.
Instead of another police department, Oblad has already taken a new job working team security for the Utah Jazz for both home and away games.
"My wife is happy I’m not in a uniform,” he said.
When he's not working, Oblad said he enjoys being with his wife and three children, whether it's in the outdoors or being a coach for their Little League games or just cheering from the sidelines.
"I like being a dad. I like being a husband and just doing stuff as a family,” he said.
Oblad also stays busy serving his neighborhood and his church.7 comments on this story
When people suggest he's "too nice" to be a cop, he tells them that just means that they haven't met enough cops. In the current era where recruitment is down and the law enforcement profession is trying to improve its image with the public, Oblad said it's still a great career for someone with the right mindset.
"It’s a really hard career. It’s a really rewarding career,” he said. "Sometimes you feel like a dad or coach, sometimes like a social worker.
"It’s not for everybody. But for some people it’s a great job. And for me, it’s been a great career. It’s been a job I enjoy coming to."