Two decades of shooter response strategy ignored at Uvalde

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A Texas State Trooper and other law enforcement members listen to the Texas House Investigative Committee during a press conference after releasing a full report into the shooting at Robb Elementary School, Sunday, July 17, 2022 , in Uvalde, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

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A total of 376 officers converged on Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, more than the entire police force of a mid-size US city like Fort Lauderdale, Florida, or Tempe, Arizona. But for more than 70 minutes on May 24, no one stopped the shooter.

Amid the sounds of continuous gunfire emanating from the primary school, they waited. By the time they entered and killed 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, 19 children and two teachers were dead or fatally injured.

The response thwarts active shooter training that emphasizes confrontation with the shooter, a norm set more than two decades ago after the mass shooting at Columbine High School showed the wait was costing lives .

“This will set law enforcement back 20 years. It really will,” said Greg Shaffer, a retired FBI agent who is now a Dallas-based security consultant. “It was a calamity of mistakes.”

It’s unclear how many more people at Robb Elementary were shot while police waited, but the delay also meant more time before the injured could receive potentially life-saving treatment, he said following the Sunday release of a damning report from a Texas House of Representatives investigative committee that detailed the chaotic response.

“You have to assume that there are people who are in critical need of medical care,” he said. “The terminology we use when we train is, ‘You have to stop killing before you can stop dying.'”

It was a tragic lesson from the 2016 mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, where more than half of those killed bled to death before they could get emergency treatment, he said.

From the start, officers’ tactics at Uvalde fell outside most standard operating procedures, Shaffer said. Rather than advancing together, one of the first three officers fell behind the others and another stopped. And of those first responders, two had long guns and a third had a handgun, which might have been enough firepower to take on the shooter quickly. “These are great chances. I’ll take those odds any day of the week,” Shaffer said.

As more officers arrived on the scene, rather than acting as an overwhelming force to take down the shooter, they seemed to have little cohesion or leadership, said Maria Haberfeld, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. This is largely because they belonged to multiple overlapping agencies that did not communicate effectively with each other, which she says could happen again.

“You have a number of departments that don’t work together on a regular basis to respond to a crisis situation. It’s chaotic, it’s unprofessional, it’s dysfunctional,” she said. It’s just the best illustration of the worst-case scenario that I’ve been predicting for years now, that this proliferation of agencies is going to lead to disaster.”

Criminal charges against officers could be possible, but civil liability is more likely, Shaffer said. A handful of local officers were furloughed, including Uvalde’s acting police chief and the school district police chief, but the overwhelming majority of officers who responded were forces of the federal and state orders. This included nearly 150 U.S. Border Patrol officers and 91 state police officers.

“I think a lot of people need to lose their jobs,” Shaffer said.

In total, Sunday’s report and more than three hours of new body camera footage of the May 24 tragedy provided the most comprehensive account yet of one of the worst school shootings in US history. United States. Some families called the police cowards and demanded resignations.

Frank Straub, director of the National Policing Institute’s Center for Targeted Violence Prevention, said the chaos surrounding who was the incident commander at the scene is something departments working together normally do. Although the situation created confusion, the fundamental point that was always missed was to reach the shooter as quickly as possible.

“The obligation is to neutralize the shooter. Stop the shooting, stop the bleeding. That’s the streak,” said Straub, a former police chief. “As the protective equipment arrived on the scene, ballistic vests, ballistic helmets, according to protocol, they should have continued. It was their obligation to stop the shooting.

Even during lulls in the shooting, “you had to realize that there were students and teachers in those classrooms and if they were to survive” they needed immediate medical attention, he said. he declares.

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Associated Press editor Gary Fields contributed to this report.

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