Providence officer: Always ‘be aware of your surroundings’ in public

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Thursday night’s movie theater shooting sent shock waves across the nation.

The shooting in Lafayette, Louisiana comes right in the middle of a busy summer movie season.

Eyewitness News spoke with a member of the Providence Police Department Friday, to learn what to do in the event something similar happened in Rhode Island.

Since the Columbine tragedy 16 years ago, police say they have sharpened and diversified their skills.

Commanding officer of Providence’s Weapons Bureau, Sergeant Kenneth Vinacco, said in an active shooter scenario, winning is the most important thing.

“The mindset is to try to deal with the situation as quickly as possible — and to try to have the least amount of casualties in any event as possible,” he said.

Vinacco, a team leader of the department’s special response team and an Army veteran, said the terrible headlines don’t just make officers think — they make them work harder.

“We’ve definitely gotten more focused on our training — the training of our police officers — and what we train them in,” he said.

He said the department holds regular wide-ranging instruction and drills at an area not disclosed to the public.

But Vinacco had some advice for residents, too, saying they should always know what is going on around them.

“We can’t let them dictate what we’re going to do. The only thing we say is to be aware of your surroundings, know what’s going on, and don’t put yourself in a predicament where you could be a victim of something like this.”

For Vinacco, vigilance is paramount.

“When they go into a movie theater, they come into this room, they go into a restaurant — you look where the exits are,” he said. “That is the primary thing you should be doing. Paying attention to everybody who’s coming in.”

Follow your gut if something doesn’t feel right, Vinacco said, and if chaos does break out, the first thing to do is to try to get out of the area. But, if you can’t, hide.

“Try to hide out. Try to barricade themselves and make them less likely a victim,” he said.

The last option – and one that the Department of Homeland Security writes should only be attempted “as a last resort,” is to take action.

“That might mean fighting with the individual, taking the person down, holding the person until the law comes — and they’ll deal with them,” Vinacco said.

When running from a scene, Vinacco said you should always remember to show your hands to police.

“Don’t make any fast movements around us, don’t do anything that we could perceive as an attack on us,” he said.

And for those with legal conceal carry permits — Vinacco said that decision comes with risks.

“We misinterpret you as a bad person, the active shooter. So everything is judgmental and you have to use your best common sense in order to deal with those situations.”

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