Uvalde police department, school police dept. under scrutiny

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The police response to the Texas school massacre was led by the chief of a six-officer police department that oversees about eight schools. The first officers on the scene were from Uvalde City Police, which has a part-time SWAT team and about 40 paid officers.

Police experts said it made sense that the school’s police chief would be responsible, given that it was his campus and he was familiar with security protocols.

But authorities made it clear Friday that many other things were wrong as those small police departments were joined by state, local and federal law enforcement agencies in the city of 16,000. Officers waited nearly an hour inside Robb Elementary School before a group broke into the classroom and confronted 18-year-old Salvador Rolando Ramos. At that time, according to police, Customs and Border Protection officers shot and killed the shooter, who had killed 19 children and two teachers and injured 17 others.

Trapped alongside a gunman, students called 911 and pleaded: ‘Please send the police’

State officials offered conflicting and partial accounts of the slow response, including police forcing parents away from the school and overpowering them as they begged officers to enter.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott (right) and others initially said officers responded quickly and saved lives. Officials now say the school system’s police chief erred in deciding the shooter had gone from an active shooter to a “barricaded subject”, and made no effort to kick down the door and enter.

An off-duty Border Patrol tactical agent was the first to arrive outside the classroom and ‘basically said, let’s go’, according to a US Customs and Protection official Borders who spoke on condition of anonymity to share preliminary details of the investigation. “They didn’t tell me they were frustrated,” the official said of other Border Patrol agents who converged. “But they told me it was hard to discern who was responsible.”

Police made ‘wrong decision’ not to prosecute Uvalde shooter, official says

Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Police Department Chief Pedro “Pete” Arredondo, who was the incident commander, did not respond to requests for comment on Friday. A Uvalde Police Department spokeswoman referred the requests to the Texas Department of Public Safety, and requests to the local district attorney’s office went unanswered.

“We needed help ASAP for our children, and it wasn’t there,” Amanda Flores, who said she knew the 21 victims, said at a memorial on Main Street on Friday. “I saw these parents running around, wanting to pick up their children and the police attacking the parents, and this should never have happened.”

Since the Columbine school massacre in 1999, many police departments have trained officers to pursue an assailant as soon as possible, to minimize the number of teachers and children shot. Previously, councils often emphasized expecting specially trained tactical officers with specialized equipment.

In March, school district police conducted active shooter training at Uvalde High School, according to a post on the agency’s Facebook page. “Our overall goal is to train every law enforcement officer in the Uvalde area so that we can best prepare for any situation that may arise,” the post said.

The state-mandated course curriculum states that “in the event of an active attack on a school, school law enforcement officers should do their best to fill the void until other first responders may arrive”. An arriving officer’s “first priority is to go in and confront the aggressor,” even if that officer must act alone, according to the guide.

Live Updates: Latest Developments in the Aftermath of the Texas School Massacre

The Texas legislature in 2019 approved a measure requiring such training for all school police officers. The program teaches Columbine officers and the change in police response tactics since then, as well as the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida in 2018. It notes that an armed school resource officer remained outside Parkland High School rather than confront the shooter, drawing criticism to himself and his department.

“First responders to the active shooter scene will typically have to put themselves in harm’s way and demonstrate uncommon acts of courage to save innocent people,” the state program says.

Chris Grollnek, a retired police officer and active shooter prevention expert, said he was baffled that school officers waited to confront the shooter while children and teachers were inside of the room with him.

“The first officer who responded – I don’t care if it’s the assistant dog draftsman – he comes in and stops the shooter. That’s part of the job,” Grollnek said. “You have a ballistic vest. children have? Pencils. You have a duty to do something. If someone tells you to stay out, you are disobeying that order.

In 2020, the Uvalde City Police SWAT team visited school campuses to interact with students and familiarize themselves in the event of an emergency, according to a Facebook post from the department. The department’s 2018 annual report said the SWAT unit held monthly tactical training sessions, open to all officers.

Rogelio Martin Muñoz, a defense lawyer for Uvalde and a former member of the city council, said Friday that Uvalde “is not one of those communities where there is mistrust between the police and the population. There is no there’s no question of police violence, police brutality.The criticism is more that they’re just not doing a very good job.

“I’m not saying I take that position,” Muñoz added. “These are people trying to do a good job and are probably underpaid.”

Sara Spector, who worked as a prosecutor in Uvalde a decade ago, said officers in the area tended to be both underpaid and undertrained. “They’re being asked to do something that you would expect to see from a New York Police Department or a Dallas Police Department.” said Spector, who is now an attorney in Midland, Texas. But “it’s a different world, especially as you enter less affluent rural communities.”

Abbott said Friday he wanted a full review of the law enforcement response.

“There will be ongoing investigations detailing exactly who knew what when, who was in charge of what strategy. Why was this particular strategy employed? Why were other strategies not employed? In the end, why didn’t they pick the strategy that would have been best to get in there, take out the killer, and save the kids? said Abbott.

Tim Craig and Teo Armus in Uvalde, Texas, and Timothy Bella and Nick Miroff in Washington contributed to this report.

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