New details about local law enforcement’s apparent inability to respond quickly to a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, raise growing questions about police procedures introduced after the 1999 Columbine shooting in Colorado and whether or not they were followed.
After three days of conflicting accounts of the police response to the attack that left 19 children and two teachers dead in the small South Texas town, it has emerged that the police decision to wait at the The exterior of the classroom where the 18-year-old shooter was barricaded appears to contravene federal and state guidelines, developed over two decades, that prioritize police disabling the shooter.
In Texas, Uvalde officers received their latest training in recent months with protocols stating that “an officer’s first priority is to step in and confront the attacker. This may include walking around injured people and failing to respond to calls for help from children,” according to the policy.
The head of the schools police department in this area, separate from the city police force, is Pedro Arredondo, who was the incident commander during Tuesday’s shooting and who was described by authorities as having taken the ” bad decision” by delaying the storming of the classroom until the arrival of federal agents.
He completed the most recent training course in December on dealing with gun attacks, NBC News reported, and had been in the role since 2020.
Texas State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, a Democrat, said Sunday that “active shooter protocols were violated” and the delay in charging police to stop the carnage likely cost lives as some children had bled to death after being shot.
“So many things have gone wrong here,” Gutierrez told CNN on Sunday morning. He said the failure was not due to any particular officer. “Everybody failed here,” he said.
It is not yet clear what exact situation Arredondo believed his officers were facing and there are different response protocols for different variations of a shooting incident. Arredondo did not respond to media requests for comment.
But unnamed law enforcement officials told The Associated Press on Saturday that officers from other agencies urged the school’s police chief to let them move in early.
Audio recordings of scene capture officers from other agencies telling Arredondo that the shooter was still active and the priority was to arrest him, a source told the news agency.
The Washington Post, quoting a US Customs and Border Protection official, said an off-duty Border Patrol tactical agent arrived outside the classroom where police officers from the school had been waiting for an hour and “basically said we were going to do this” before they burst in and killed the shooter.
The attacker was a local resident, Salvador Ramos, who had just turned 18, which allowed him to legally buy weapons and ammunition.
“They didn’t tell me they were frustrated,” the official said of the responding federal officers. “But they told me it was hard to discern who was responsible.”
Texas Governor Greg Abbott said on Friday he thought he was misled about the initial response and promised an investigation into “exactly who knew what, when, who was in charge” and what they did .
“The bottom line would be: why didn’t they choose the strategy that would have been best to get in there and take out the killer and save the kids?” added the governor.
Since the Columbine school massacre in 1999, many police departments have trained officers to pursue an assailant as a priority. After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, the FBI was given jurisdiction over mass shootings.
This led to a series of FBI initiatives to train local law enforcement in how to respond, including the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (Alerrt) program, which was developed in Texas.
Officers are responsible for training law enforcement and other first responders to ensure active shooter response protocols are consistent across the country.
The program has since trained more than 114,000 law enforcement first responders, according to the Department of Justice.
The question of local law enforcement was raised after the 2018 mass shooting in Parkland, Florida at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, where a 19-year-old former student of the school killed 17 people and took wounded 17 others.
Former Broward County Deputy Sheriff Scot Peterson, who hid while the shooter went on a rampage, has been criminally charged with negligence of a child resulting in grievous bodily harm, culpable negligence and a perjury.
Florida prosecutors described Peterson’s actions as “unprecedented and irresponsible.”
Peterson is due to stand trial in September and has denied the charges.
The first officers to arrive last Tuesday were from the Uvalde City Police, which has some Swat capacity and about 40 officers. But command of the incident has been taken by the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Police Department, a separate division that has six officers and oversees security at eight local schools, The Washington Post reported.
According to the Uvalde School District Police Facebook page, the small department held active shooter training at Uvalde High School in March.
“Our overall goal is to train every law enforcement officer in the Uvalde region so that we can best prepare for any situation that may arise,” it read.
In 2019, the Texas Legislature passed a measure requiring all school police officers to complete the training and noted the change in law enforcement tactics since Columbine and the failures of Parkland’s response. An arriving officer’s “first priority is to go in and confront the aggressor,” the state curriculum advises.
“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 Texas program states.
The 2020 state handbook adds, “A first responder who does not want to put the lives of innocent people above their own safety should consider another career field.”