Training for a gunman at Harry O’s, the ‘worst-case scenario’
November 18, 2009
The Park City Police Department sport utility vehicles are lined up outside Harry O’s, Main Street’s biggest, most rollicking nightclub.
Police tape has been posted outside, and traffic cones caution people to not step toward the doors of the nightclub.
Officers are seen going in and out of the building. The police officers are familiar with the nightclub, it being a place where they are frequently called.
It is hours before the crowds would be expected to arrive at Harry O’s if there was a big act performing that night.
But on a recent weekday the officers at Harry O’s are not responding to a complaint about drunkenness or fisticuffs. A gunman is said to be inside Harry O’s, and the show of force is needed.
The scenario is not real. The officers instead are inside Harry O’s training for the terrible situation of having a man with a gun among the hundreds of people who might also be in Harry O’s drinking, dancing and partying.
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Approximately 30 police officers take part in the mandatory training, an exercise similar to those that the Police Department has completed to prepare itself to take down a gunman at Park City High School.
Outside Harry O’s, the officers can be heard yelling, apparently between themselves and at the suspected gunman inside. The sharp, cracking sound of blanks are heard from the sidewalk as well, the noises made when the airsoft guns on loan from the Summit County Sheriff’s Office are fired.
"Any active gunman, our officers are better prepared than two months ago to deal with the worst-case scenario," says Jim Snyder, a Police Department sergeant who coordinated the training.
In some of the exercises, the officers must search for the assailant in the nightclub, which Snyder says offers someone a "ton of places to hide." In other scenarios, the person is apparently in view as the officers approach.
The Harry O’s training caps a two-month Police Department academy that each officer completed. Other topics they covered over the two months include the proper use of Tasers, defensive tactics, the operations of police vehicles, CPR and first aid and environmental hazards.
Harry O’s, open just more than a decade, remains, by a wide margin, the largest nightclub on Main Street, with a capacity of 755 people. The crowds are sometimes huge for concerts, overflowing onto the patio and sidewalk outside during appearances by name-brand acts. They typically reach a crescendo during the Sundance Film Festival, with Harry O’s being one of the hottest locations during the festival.
The place is open at least four or five night each week during the ski season and reaches capacity on the weekends and during big concerts, says John Beck, the general manager of Harry O’s.
The police regularly are at Harry O’s to handle the crowds. Last weekend officers were at Harry O’s or just outside the nightclub at least three times. At just after 10:30 p.m. on Friday a man reportedly scuffled with bouncers inside. Less than an hour later two men were seen fighting in front of Harry O’s, the police reported. Later that night a suspected intoxication case was reported to the police.
Beck says he hires between 12 and 40 security guards for events at Harry O’s, depending on how busy he expects the place to be. He says serious cases are rare at Harry O’s, maintaining that occasional fistfights are typically the worst the people at Harry O’s see.
Still, Beck says, the Police Department’s training is worthwhile as the officers familiarize themselves with Harry O’s.
"Heaven forbid anything would ever happen, but it’s nice to know they’re prepared," Beck says.