My View: Law enforcement training helped save lives in tense situation

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts talks with reporters about the police response to the Dec. 11 shooting at Clackamas Town Center. On Tuesday, Dec. 11, our community endured a horrific act of violence. A place that should be safe — a place where I spend time with my own family — was transformed into a living nightmare by an individual determined to commit mass murder.

Above all else, we must remember the two people who were tragically taken from us that day: Cindy Yuille and Steven Forsyth. Kristina Shevchenko was wounded but is receiving medical treatment. Please keep them and their families in your thoughts and prayers throughout this holiday season, and beyond.

That day was a nightmare, but those of us who work in public safety knew that it was a nightmare that might come true someday, so we prepared for it. Listening from the command post, I was proud of how every member of the sheriff’s office responded in this crisis — implementing our established active shooter protocol. They acted with courage and professionalism, even while putting their own lives on the line.

At one point, we believed that the suspect was hiding in a service hallway, reloading his rifle. One of our “hunter cells” gathered outside the access door. Afterward, a deputy on that team told me, “When I went through that door, I fully expected that I was going to be shot.”

He went through that door anyway.

We didn’t do this alone. Without even being asked, police officers from other jurisdictions responded to the mall and deployed side-by-side with our deputies. Police chiefs in several neighboring cities said, “Send everybody!” while others stepped in to handle unrelated calls for service that we continued to receive during this emergency.

Along with their regional partners, Clackamas Fire District No. 1 arrived in force, fully prepared to render medical care if this turned into a mass-casualty situation. Leaders from the Portland Police Bureau, Oregon State Police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also responded to the scene, all with the same focus: saving lives.

In addition to the efforts of everyone in the public safety community, the people who work at Clackamas Town Center did a great job responding to this crisis. They had a lock-down procedure in place and they implemented it effectively.

Also, the individual citizens caught up in this situation stayed calm, did their best to keep themselves safe and took care of each other.

I have been so moved over the past few days by all the stories of genuine heroism that I’ve heard: people helping strangers escape from the violence, employees stepping up to protect their customers, and most especially the courage of the medical professionals who put their own lives at risk in a desperate effort to save the victims of this tragedy.

Coming together for good

Even as we mourn the loss of Cindy Yuille and Steven Forsyth, and hope and pray for Kristina Shevchenko to recover from her wounds, we are learning about a new outburst of violence in Newtown, Conn. More than two dozen people were killed in a rampage, many of them children in first grade.

In the face of such horror, I think back to the motto of our organization: “Working together to make a difference.”

I believe that no matter how awful the circumstances, no matter how enormous the challenge, we are better equipped to deal with it if we all come together. We can build on each other’s strengths, make up for each other’s weaknesses and learn from each other’s experiences and insight.

I hope that, as a community and as a nation, we come together around these tragedies and emerge better, stronger and more united for having endured them.

Craig Roberts is the sheriff of Clackamas County.

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