Shots fired: Behind the scenes of the police response to Garden State Plaza

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(PARAMUS) – The Garden State Plaza opened for business again on Wednesday morning with ‘ambassadors’ positioned throughout the mall.

The ambassadors had two objectives towards shoppers: to give them a piece of chocolate and thank customers for coming back to the mall less than 48 hours after Richard Shoop sprayed the shopping complex with at least six rifle rounds Monday night.

Minutes after the initial shot, Shawn Tucker’s life transformed into something he had only trained for, “Very chaotic, as controlled as can be, but it’s just a lot of resources you’re trying to manage.”

Tucker, a six-year veteran as a Paramus telecommunicator, raced to the 911 Communications Center inside of the Paramus Police Department.  On Monday night, they had a staff of four, within minutes it was filled with 14. Tucker’s objective was simple, “It’s all about accountability.  If you don’t know where anybody is, the question mark are they ok? What is going on with them?”

Safety is the primary goal.

Paramus Chief Kenneth Ehrenberg didn’t have to travel far when the initial call went out, “At that time I was off duty, approximately located one block away from the Garden State Plaza.”

NJ shooting thumb

Law enforcement classifies this as the “Active Shooter” stage. For the 27-year vet this is what he has trained for inside the very same mall, “This is real, so the plan stays the same however the dynamics of this is live, this is real.  There is danger involved here, we’re not sure what we have here, it just gives a different perspective to it.”

LT. Mike Devine of the Bergen County Police Department showed up to a scene he describes as, “It was something we completely expected, it was extremely chaotic.”

Lt. Devine along with an officer from State Police implemented the second phase, “Containment,” only they had to multi-task 13 tactical units and ensure the safety of more than 500 officers.  A multi-agency show of force that nearly 48 hours later still energizes Lt. Devine, “So we got there, it’s awesome! This is what we train for since 2004, we’ve had this plan in place and it works!”

Finally, there was the “Search” phase.  Sgt. David LaGrone was one of the first to lead a team into the mall to track down Shoop, “Everybody was amped up. It could be a potentially dangerous situation.  The shooter had a rifle we knew that and so we used extra caution.”

As to whether or not a mall makes the situation more dangerous to due various additional angles added to the equation? “It’s extremely dangerous. It’s a situation where he could have every advantage he could want.”

A few of those advantages were lighting as well as a number of hiding places for ambushes.

One interesting note, one official added that due to all of the natural disasters in recent years, they were able to mobilize much quicker.

The reason?

They were used to it.