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Boise Police Chief: Critical incident training was being conducted moments before mass shooting.

James Dawson, Boise State Public Radio
James Dawson, Boise State Public Radio

In the wake of a tragic mass shooting at the Boise Towne Square Mall which left two victims and the gunman dead October 25, Boise Police Chief Ryan Lee says the community, the state and the nation has to be much more serious about addressing the untold mental crises that trigger such senseless violence in Idaho and beyond.

“I think the challenge that we are not talking enough about is: What is our mental health infrastructure? What is our ability to connect and contact individuals?” said Lee. “Because well-educated people can sit back and look at this and realize that nobody in their right mental state of mind would engage in an act like this. What infrastructure do we have, to be able to help people to avoid a tragedy like this?”

Lee visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about the investigation, the growing challenge of combatting hateful diatribes on social media, and critical incident training which, ironically, was being conducted moments before this week’s tragic incident.

“The question is: What can we do to help ourselves and to help our fellow person before they're in this moment of crisis?”
Boise Police Chief Ryan Lee

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It is Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News Good morning. I'm George Prentice.  Boise Chief of Police Ryan Lee is here. And in what has been a… well, quite difficult week, we're grateful that he can give us some time this morning.  Chief, welcome back to the program.

CHIEF RYAN LEE: Thank you for having me.

PRENTICE: Up top, I have a few questions in the wake of this week's tragedy…e the fatal shootings at the Boise Town Square Mall. The suspect, Jacob Bergquist of Boise… who died of his injuries. Was he known to law enforcement?

LEE: The best way to answer that is that he was known to the police here in Boise, as well as some of the other agencies here in the Treasure Valley. We had contact with him for various different reasons. Probably the best way to describe most of those contacts would be things such as trespass- or disorderly conduct- sort of calls in nature. So, he was a person known to us. We were aware of him. But at the time of the incident, there was no outstanding case or probable cause to arrest him, that we're aware of.

PRENTICE: Could you talk a little bit about the timing of the response at the mall from Boise P.D. and other agencies….but in particular your department… and how critical that timing was? Indeed, this was a significant test of deployment and readiness.

LEE: I appreciate that, and I think it's a pretty nuanced answer. Sadly, there have been enough of these active killing events in the United States that we've been able to analyze. And generally speaking, the data shows that if you're not able to intervene in about seven-and-a-half minutes, the ability for some sort of intervention to stop the violence and to stop the lethality of the attack is really not that significant.  You have to respond in honor of that seven-and-a-half minute time. The sooner you're able to get there, the sooner the police can do something to alter the behavior… the more likely they are to mitigate the impact of the event. And so with that in mind, much of the training that we have here at Boise, much of the training we continue to do, is designed for rapid deployment, with the ability for officers to take the initiative to effect a positive change on the situation. And I think that's very much what we saw in the tragedy on Monday. I don't in any way want to dismiss the severity of this tragedy - the loss of two community members lives on this.   But the ability for our officers from the time the first call we get into the dispatch center that comes out on the radio at the time, our officers are contacting the suspect and are able to engage him in a way that changes his behavior and stops. That cycle of violence is roughly two-and-a-half minutes. We're well aware that he was well armed and well equipped. I'm certain that if our officers did not bravely and heroically step in harm's way, and quickly did exactly what they're trained and asked to do, this could have been a much more catastrophic event.

PRENTICE: To that end, can I assume also that sooner than later, you'll deconstruct this event for future training?

LEE: Very much so. The timing of it was rather interesting. We were, coincidentally, doing command level training for managing critical incidents. We literally had several members of the command staff - about 12- to- 15 of them - in a classroom, talking about how to manage critical incidents when this event happened. So, it's very important for us to stay on the cutting edge… to be able to serve this growing community effectively and to keep it safe and peaceful to the best of our ability.

PRENTICE: The investigation….the forensic investigation… can we assume that a big part of that will be technical? Which is to say, diving into the suspect's use of technology?

LEE: There is in almost every significant investigation nowadays with the integration of technology, frankly in the information age….t;ere is a significant component, but especially when we're trying to understand motivations, which are still obviously a question that we have to still piece together. The technical analysis, computer forensic analysis, looking at social media platforms, all of that is going to take a significant amount of time and will be a significant focus of any investigation.

PRENTICE: You know as well as anyone that pretty soon after the event erupted,, so did social media… which is to say rumors. Can you speak to tamping down those rumors, and some talk of some kind of conspiracy?

LEE: So the first thing I want to make absolutely clear is there is no evidence at all that there is a conspiracy, that there are any other planned attacks or that there's any ongoing threat to the public. This individual acted alone. There's no indicator of anything. Otherwise, it's a challenge of the information age that we're in. We'd like to think that the interconnectivity with social media and smartphones… that somehow that  would improve our connection in society. And in many ways it has. But there is a flip side to that coin. And I think the ability for people to put forth their own theories ,or frankly, their own false narratives in this day and age, it's a significant challenge for us as a society. It's a pretty sad statement that people would quickly fan the flames of false information in the wake of a tragedy like this. But unfortunately, having talked to many other police executives around the nation before this event, I know that this is something that does happen.

PRENTICE: Halloween is this weekend. Election Day is Tuesday. A lot of people will be walking neighborhoods. Is there an extra sense of urgency and awareness among the police force in the coming days?

LEE: Well, we'll have enhanced patrols for Halloween night. Obviously, we're hoping that people in the middle of a pandemic still exercise safe precautions from a health aspect relative to Halloween, but we recognize that people will be out and about. We will enhance the patrols for that. We're also developing plans to enhance patrols around the election, knowing that people are in the wake of this event, feeling a little more anxious, a little more nervous, and we want people to feel safe as they go forth and exercise their rights.

PRENTICE: I've got two final questions for you. Mass shootings. Sad to say, they are not new. That doesn't make them any less personal or tragic. But in a community… in a state where firearms are everywhere, how can we keep this type of tragedy from happening?

LEE: I think that really there is a focus on whether or not firearms play a role…that's part of a conversation… and it can always come out when discussing these events. I think the challenge that we are not talking enough about is what is our mental health infrastructure? What is our ability to connect and contact individuals? Because I think you and I, as well-educated people, can sit back and look at this and realize that nobody in their right mental state of mind would engage in an act like this. What infrastructure do we have, to be able to contact to help people to avoid a tragedy like this? I think there's a much deeper issue to look at. The root of the matter is that when we talk about these…the verbiage commonly used as “mass shooting.” But the reality is that these are “mass killing” events. We see them occur with vehicle borne devices, you know, cars. We've seen a variety of different attack methods throughout, not only the United States, but really the world. And the question is: what can we do to help ourselves and to help our fellow person before they're in this moment of crisis, where this seems to be the act that they're going to carry out?

PRENTICE: Finally, can I ask you what is the best piece of advice that someone gave you… or that you gave another cop… as far as self-care, and as far as taking care of yourself in the shadow of such violence… of such a tragedy?

LEE: I think the best advice is to recognize that every person has their limits and you often realize your limits only after you've crossed that threshold.  And to be mindful and to care for yourself, to care for your family, to not expect your family and friends to be the mechanism that helps decompress you, and to not essentially pass that trauma along to them, but to seek out other healthy ways to cope and deal with the stress. Obviously, the magnitude of a tragedy like this brings that to the forefront, but the reality of the police profession, and to a degree the fire profession as well, as we see many tragic events and we need to make sure that we're equipping our officers to cope with those stresses that most of society doesn't have to deal with.

PRENTICE: I'd be remiss if I didn't ask how your officer is doing - how he or she is doing - the officer that was wounded this week.

LEE: The officer is doing well. They were able to be treated and released from the hospital. Speaking to your previous question, I am always concerned about the physical health of an officer, but there's also a component about the mental and emotional health in an event like this. And so, we're going to make sure that we're not only helping our officer physically recover, but that we're giving them the proper support so they can return to service.

PRENTICE: He is Boise Chief of Police Ryan Lee.  On any given day, he is the busiest person in town, and on this morning, he gave us a few minutes. Chief, thank you so much. Have a good rest of your morning.

LEE: Thank you. Take care.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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