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Friday, January 19, 2024

Deadly Failure in Uvalde

Law enforcement in the United States is decentralized and fragmented.  Sometimes the system works well. During the Uvalde Massacre, it did not.

 Justice Department, Critical Incident Review: Active Shooter at Robb Elementary School

The most significant failure was that responding officers should have immediately recognized the incident as an active shooter situation, using the resources and equipment that were sufficient to push forward immediately and continuously toward the threat until entry was made into classrooms 111/112 and the threat was eliminated. Since the tragic shooting at Columbine High School in 1999, a fundamental precept in active shooter response and the generally accepted practice is that the first priority must be to immediately neutralize the subject; everything else, including officer safety, is subordinate to that objective. Accordingly, when a subject has already shot numerous victims and is in a room with additional victims, efforts first must be dedicated to making entry into the room, stopping the subject, and rendering aid to victims. These efforts must be undertaken regardless of the equipment and personnel available to those first on the scene. Critical Incident Review: Active Shooter at Robb Elementary School | Executive Summary xvi 

 This did not occur during the Robb Elementary shooting response, where there was a 77-minute gap between when officers first arrived on the scene and when they finally confronted and killed the subject. Several of the first officers on scene initially acted consistent with generally accepted practices to try to engage the subject, and they moved quickly toward classrooms 111/112 within minutes of arriving. But once they retreated after being met with gunfire, the law enforcement responders, including UCISD PD Chief Pete Arredondo—who we conclude was the de facto on-scene incident commander—began treating the incident as a barricaded subject scenario and not as an active shooter situation. 

As more law enforcement resources arrived, first responders on the scene, including those with specific leadership responsibilities, did not coordinate immediate entry into the classrooms, running counter to generally accepted practices for active shooter response to immediately engage the subject to further save lives. Instead, law enforcement focused on calls for additional SWAT equipment (which should not delay the response to an active shooter), requests for delivery of classroom keys and breaching tools (which may not have been necessary to gain entry), and orders to evacuate surrounding classrooms prior to making entry into classrooms 111/112.

In addition to the overall failure to appreciate the active shooter nature of the situation, responders also failed to act promptly even after hearing gunshots around 12:21 p.m., which should have spurred greater urgency to confront the subject but instead set off a renewed search for keys. 

There were also failures in leadership, command, and coordination. None of the law enforcementleaders at the scene established an incident command structure to provide timely direction, control, andcoordination to the overwhelming number of responders who arrived on the scene. This lack of structure contributed to confusion among responders about who was in charge of the response and how they could assist. Communications difficulties exacerbated these problems. Per UCISD policies, Chief Arredondo was the on-scene incident commander, but he lacked a radio, having discarded his radios during his arrival thinking they were unnecessary. And although he attempted to communicate with officers in other parts of the hallway via phone, unfortunately, on multiple occasions, he directed officers intending to gain entry into the classrooms to stop, because he appeared to determine that other victims should first be removed from nearby classrooms to prevent further injury. 

These failures may have been influenced by policy and training deficiencies. For example, recent training that UCISD PD provided seemed to suggest, inappropriately, that an active shooter situation can transition into a hostage or barricaded subject situation. And while many of the FOS had sufficient active shooter and incident command training, other key FOS responders lacked any active shooter training or incident command training. The vast majority of the officers from different law enforcement agencies had never trained together, contributing to difficulties in coordination and communication on the day of the incident. The lack of pre-planning hampered even well-prepared agencies from functioning at their best