Police responding to panicked crowds face difficult task

Police response to mall fights

ELIZABETH, N.J. -- Back in August at JFK Airport, a loud bang captured on Facebook video sent people running, fearing a possible shooter.

“Be advised, Terminal 1, people are running out and yelling ‘active shooter,’” went out over the NYPD scanner.

“We heard the shots and then everybody just pushed their way in,” said passenger Tracy Ann Maloney.

JFK Airport terminal evacuated after report of shots fired

But there was no shooter.

According to former FBI Assistant Director Ron Hosko, police must act as if it’s a real emergency.

“The great difficulty here is that crowd mentality often depends on whispers, rumor control,” Hosko said.

“It doesn’t take very much for that rumor of shots fired to start, and of course that is going to ramp up a police response.”

On Monday night, it was the sound of a chair thrown during a fight, mistaken for a gunshot, that set off a panic inside an Elizabeth, New Jersey mall.

Police responded by searching the mall with long guns and shutting down roads.

Ron Hosko CBS News

“The initial patrol units are going to have to get into the situation assess it and relay the information back to potential arriving police, or potentially wave off other police officers,” Hosko said.

Crowd reactions have posed difficult challenges for authorities this year, which is why police in Fort Worth, Texas said they couldn’t take any chances.

“Anytime we’re hearing a mall shooting, and it’s the day after Christmas, you have tons of people holiday shopping, of course the response of going to be just like that. We’re going to get in here as fast as we can and that’s exactly what happened,” said Fort Worth, Texas, police officer Tamara Pena.