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Ryan Johnson, Published July 20 2012

Fargo police: No ‘knee-jerk reaction’ to Colorado shooting

FARGO – Lt. Joel Vettel said the Fargo Police Department is well-trained and prepared to deal with random acts of violence like Friday’s shooting in a suburban Denver movie theater that killed at least a dozen people.

But officials don’t see any safety issues at local movie theaters, he said, and it’s important for local law enforcement officials and businesses to not just have a “knee-jerk reaction” to an incident this rare and unpredictable.

“These events are extremely dynamic, and there certainly are things that are going to happen in a situation where it may not go as smooth as you’d like it,” Vettel said. “But we’ve done a number of things to give ourselves every opportunity to be ready when bad things happen.”

He said police officers have been trained to deal with shooters like 24-year-old James Holmes, the alleged gunman arrested without a struggle outside the Aurora, Colo., movie theater where police believe he committed one of the country’s deadliest mass shootings.

Witnesses say Holmes he threw a gas canister in the front of the packed theater and opened fire on the crowd.

Vettel said the police department has “mutual aid” agreements with other area law enforcement agencies to get assistance if an event like this happens here.

“We feel very comfortable in our preparation,” he said. “It’s like anything else: We prepare for the worst and we always hope for the best.”

Marcus Theatres, a chain that operates the Century Cinema and West Acres Cinema in Fargo and the Safari Value Cinema in Moorhead, issued a statement Friday saying it would take “appropriate measures to have our security precautions in place today and every day.” But all showings of the new Batman blockbuster and other movies will go on as scheduled in its theaters.

Employees of the West Acres Cinema declined further comment, and a Forum photographer and reporter were asked to leave the parking lot while interviewing moviegoers.

Fargo resident Tyson Shade said Friday’s shooting will stick with him, especially the next time he decides to go to the theater late at night.

“It’s one of those things that will kind of always sit in the back of your head and you’ll never forget about it,” he said.

Jordan Wolf said he bought tickets for “The Dark Knight Rises” earlier this week and he still planned to watch the blockbuster Friday night.

“I am saddened by what happened in Colorado, however I do not think that the tragedy should be associated with the movie,” Wolf said. “The fact is that causation cannot be shown between the movie and the massacre, and the only association that can be made between the two is location.”

Benjamin Hamilton had similar feelings, saying anyone here concerned about going to a movie theater after what happened nearly 900 miles away “should never leave their house or they might get struck by lightning.”

Paula Berriche was just leaving the West Acres Cinema after watching a movie Friday afternoon and said the tragedy shouldn’t cause local theaters or law enforcement to overreact.

“This is Fargo,” she said. “It’s fine.”

Vettel said tragedies like this are “extremely rare,” which is why they are especially shocking.

But he said the shooting should remind people to think about their own day-to-day lives and figure out ways to be safer every day – instead of “living in fear” or preparing for an event as unlikely and random as this.

“It comes down to a common sense thing and recognizing times when you’re more vulnerable and just taking steps to mitigate your possibility of being a victim of violent crime,” he said. “But it is extremely difficult to prepare yourself for a situation such as the one that happened in Colorado, and it’s one that people can’t foresee.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587

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