In many places across the country, the new school year is just two weeks away—gone are the days of waiting until after Labor Day for kids of all ages to return to the classroom. While states along the Bosh-Wash corridor on the East Coast retain the early September start dates, in places from Arizona to Oklahoma and from California to Kansas, August is the new September.
While parents purchase new book bags stuffed with notebooks and fresh pencils, and teachers prepare their lesson plans for the upcoming academic agenda, law enforcement agencies are redoubling their training for response to active shooter incidents on campus.
Here is a small sampling of recent headlines (paraphrased for clarity):
- Local Ohio Police Train with U.S. Marshals Service at Area School
- Police Train for Active Shooter at North Texas Elementary School
- California Police and Fire Train for Active Shooter at Middle School
- Alabama State University Police "Preparing for the Unthinkable"
- Florida High School Used for Multi-Agency Active Shooter Training
Perhaps the most notable news item of late, however, is from a local Fox News affiliate in Northwest Arkansas which had the headline, "Police are Using Robb Elementary Surveillance Video as 'What Not to Do' in Training."
That's really saying the quiet part out loud—and it needs to be said.
A Case Study in Failure
There's no nice way of putting it—the police response to the tragedy in Uvalde (TX) that took the lives of 19 elementary school children and two teachers was nothing short of an unmitigated disaster.
The entire world now knows—thanks to a 70-minute video released by the Austin American-Statesman and Austin ABC TV affiliate KVUE and a nearly 80-page report written by an investigative committee from the Texas House of Representatives—that "law enforcement responders failed to adhere to their active shooter training, and they failed to prioritize saving innocent lives over their own safety."
The video and report not only showed the ease with which the gunman gained access to the school, but how woefully inept the police response had been. That inadequate response certainly wasn't due to a lack of numbers. There were at least 376 LEOs present that day, including 149 members of the US Border Patrol, 91 from the state police, 25 Uvalde police officers, 15 with the Uvalde Country Sheriff's Office, and five members of the Uvalde School District PD. The remainder of the force was made up of neighboring county law enforcement, U.S. Marshals and federal Drug Enforcement Administration officers.
As was previously stated in this space, the gunman was "trapped in a classroom... with an unknown number of victims—some certainly dead, some possibly dying, and some frantically (and furtively) placing phone calls to 911 pleading for assistance."
As the video now reveals, those officers in the hallway were staged just down hallway from the unlocked classroom door, engaged in what can only be described as tactical loitering.
Some of the harshest critics have said that it would have been better if absolutely no police had showed up to the scene at all. The argument is that "a hastily assembled, well-regulated militia" of local citizens armed with their hunting and sport firearms would have stormed the building and ended the threat.
It's impossible to know whether or not such an outcome would have come to pass, but an objectively reasonable person could certainly see that being a possibility.
It All Comes Down to Training
The report from the Texas legislature's investigation found that, "Other than the attacker, the Committee did not find any ‘villains’ in the course of its investigation."
The report said also that there was "no one to whom we can attribute malice or ill motives. Instead, we found systemic failures and egregiously poor decision making."
The video shows—to anyone with eyes, because much of the audio remains redacted, presumably to silence the screams of the dying—officers disregarding the active shooter training they had reportedly just undergone weeks before the tragedy.
Active shooter training today—and ever since the after-action analysis of the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado—teaches officers to "run to the gun" and neutralize the threat. Active shooter training today does not indicate retreating to cover and standing idly by as victims inside call 911 with hushed but terrified pleas for help.
It doesn't teach the self-appointed Incident Commander to enter the scene without any radio communications, or to label the matter a barricades suspect when there are shots—reportedly more than 40—going off inside the structure after police arrived.
It doesn't teach casually striding over to a hand-sanitizer dispenser and cleaning your hands—which was a sad and sickening metaphor for how Uvalde School Police Chief Pete Arredondo sought in the immediate aftermath of the event to wash his hands of any culpability or responsibility. Arradondo even had the gall to take his newly appointed seat on the City Council soon after the shooting—he subsequently resigned that post.
Even if the police response that day was flawless, it's certain that the death toll would have been high. But the reaction by nearly everyone at the scene was riddled with problems, and it is "plausible that some victims could have survived if they had not had to wait 73 additional minutes for rescue," the report said.
Uvalde will be recorded in the annals of police history as a "teaching moment" much in the same manner as the Columbine massacre, which everyone in the business of training law enforcement thought had changed the way in which active shooter response was to be done.