MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – On a busy Black Friday at the Dolphin Mall, there were reports of a shooting. Panicked shoppers ran from the building, as a group of Miami-Dade police officers moved in.
The shooting turned out to be unfounded after smoke inside a restaurant set off a fire alarm, but the response was another test for Miami-Dade's Priority Response Team, or PRT.
PRT is a specially trained, equipped and readily available team. They are trained to provide a systematic response to mass casualty and critical incidents. In other words, their duties are similar to SWAT team members, but they stay ready on the road, so they are ready to go.
"The PRT gives us an intermediary team that can respond to any critical incidents throughout the county within minutes," said Lt. Joel Bello. "And we have proven that our response time is really fast.”
The team was formed in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas massacre, in part, to provide more coverage to all schools in the county.
PRT works not only with public schools, but also with charter and private schools. Bello said the team familiarizes itself with school layout and personnel, so it can respond swiftly in the event of an emergency.
Last week, PRT responded to the triple stabbing at Felix Varela High School. In December, the team went to Miami Dade College’s Homestead campus after someone was reported having a gun.
Bello said officers are trained to think quickly. They are also given emergency medical training so they can start saving lives before paramedics arrive.
"What we're telling our officers is 'Begin with whatever's immediatly in front of you, so start saving lives,'" Bello said.
On a night when Local 10 News journalists rode along with the team, there was a reported robbery at a Miami Metrorail station, a shooting near an abandoned house in the northern area of the county, and the arrests of two men possibly connected to a shooting.
When the team was announced last summer, police director Juan Perez said PRT would be made up of current Miami-Dade police officers, whose positions would be filled by new hires. Bello said most are young and eager to save lives.
"They’re motivated. They love what they do, and they really feel a sense of duty," Bello said. "I mean, it's their calling."