Mall puts on massive police exercise

NILES – As the threat of mass shootings has increased in recent years, many safety service departments across the country are beginning to prepare for such tragedies.

On Sunday night, the Eastwood Mall in Niles played host to an “active shooter” exercise, with police departments and rescue teams from across Trumbull County taking part.

With nearly 30 local agencies in attendance, Warren police Lt. Jeff Cole called the training session the largest he has been a part of in his 20 years on the force.

“I’ve never seen one of this magnitude that was this big,” Cole said. “With this many departments and personnel, and even FBI is here.”

Niles police Chief Rob Hinton said the exercise was the result of about six months of planning, with cooperation among various law enforcement agencies, fire departments and mall officials.

The exercise began at about 7 p.m., as the mall was closing.

After an hourlong debriefing in the Eastwood Expo Center, the approximately 200 safety service personnel were sent to various posts around the mall.

Once the mall was cleared of all customers and vendors, police encountered victims and shooters, many of whom were played by members of the Youngstown State University Police Academy, around the mall.

“With school shootings, Fort Hood and all of the other things that have been going on, this is as real as it gets,” Cole said.

The training session was managed by OSS International, a private security and training organization based in Columbus.

According to the U.S. Attorney General’s Office, there were 12 mass shootings in America during 2013, tripling the mark from 2012.

Kenneth J. Kollar, property manager at the Eastwood Mall, said the exercise is as important for mall officials and security personnel as it is for local law enforcement.

“This is the first time we’ve done one of these at the Eastwood Mall, but other Cafaro Co. malls have done them in the past,” Kollar said. “Every time we do one of these things, someone learns something, whether it be the communication via the radios, a tactic that could be changed.

Our security team is actually going to make the first call,” he continued.

Agencies taking part in the exercise included police and fire departments in Niles, Howland, Weathersfield, Hubbard, Hubbard Township, Liberty, Warren, Warren Township, Brookfield, Cortland and Vienna.

Also partaking were the Trumbull and Ashtabula Law Enforcement Task Force, Youngstown Police Department bomb squad, Trumbull County Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Marshal Service, Trumbull County Sheriff’s Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Trumbull County 911, U.S. Air Force security, Lane EMS Tactical paramedics, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Salvation Army and the American Red Cross.

“It’s a great opportunity, because with this many departments it makes us have to work together,” Cole explained. “We all do our separate training, but this brings everyone to the same place at the same time.”