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(UVALDE, Texas) — Two months before Tuesday’s mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that killed 19 children and two adults, the Uvalde School District held a one-day training session for local police and other school law enforcement officers. on “active shooter response”.
“First responders on the active shooter scene will generally have to put themselves in harm’s way,” according to a lengthy description of the course posted online by the Texas agency that developed the training. “Time is the number one enemy during active shooter response. … Innocent victims’ best hope is that officers spring into action immediately to isolate, distract, or neutralize the threat, even if it means an officer acts alone.”
Now relatives of the victims and neighbors at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde are raising questions about how the officers who first arrived on the scene handled the situation – including whether they had their own training .
At a news conference on Friday, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw acknowledged that officers at the scene miscalculated what was happening, not pursuing the shooter sooner.
“Looking back, where I’m sitting now, of course, it wasn’t the right decision. It was the wrong decision, period,” he said.
On Tuesday, a DPS spokesman, Lt. Chris Olivarez, told national television that at some point on Tuesday, officers at the scene decided to “focus on ‘evacuating students and teachers'” around the school”, instead of running to the location of the shooter – even as they heard more gunshots.
“They kept hearing the gunshots while they were doing this, as they were doing these rescues,” Olivarez said on CBS Wednesday.
ABC News contributor John Cohen, a former senior counterterrorism official with the US Department of Homeland Security and himself a former police officer, said the response “would appear inconsistent with accepted practice.”
“What we’re hearing from law enforcement officials in Texas appears to be inconsistent with the operational philosophy that has guided the response to active shooter situations for more than a decade,” Cohen said. “Having been a police officer, it’s a scary job – but what the public expects is that when faced with these situations, the officer is going to do what they have to do to protect the public.”
A man who lives across the street from Robb Elementary School, Jesse Ortiz, told ABC News he watched officers take cover behind a vehicle on Tuesday.
“I said, ‘Why don’t you go inside? Why don’t you go inside?'” he recalled.
Videos posted online show angry parents outside the school, urging police to do more.
Following the 1999 high school shooting in Columbine, Colorado, in which 12 students and a teacher were killed, federal and state law enforcement officials developed new practices to equip and train first stakeholders. As a result, Cohen said, it has become “generally accepted” that first officers on the scene should find and “engage” the shooter as soon as possible, even if it means putting their own lives in danger.
In 2019, the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s Policy Center released a “background paper” on active shooter situations, which noted that “current thinking re-emphasizes that, given the appropriate justification such As defined by law and agency policy, taking immediate action during active shooter incidents, rather than waiting for specially equipped and trained officers, can save lives and prevent serious injury.”
“[I]It has been recognized that even one or two armed officers can make a difference to the outcome of active fire by taking quick, but calculated, individual or coordinated action,” the newspaper said. victims.”
Over the past decade, law enforcement officers in cities and states across the country have received training reflecting these policies, according to Cohen. The course held by the Uvalde School District in March was developed by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, which oversees police certification statewide and requires school officers to take the “active shooter response” course. .
On Thursday, a senior Texas Department of Public Safety official held a press conference aimed at clarifying what happened two days earlier – although he did not answer some key questions.
Victor Escalon, director of the South Texas Region DPS, told reporters that about four minutes after the shooter entered the school, the “first officers” on the scene “receive[d] shots” and “[didn’t] enter first because of the gunfire.” At this point, the officers request “additional resources”, including tactical teams, body armor and other equipment, and they also begin to evacuate students and teachers, Escalon said.
It was “a complex situation” with “a lot of stuff,” Escalon said. About an hour after the shooter first opened fire inside the school, a US Border Patrol tactical team arrived, entered the school along with other law enforcement , then killed the shooter, according to Escalon.
Toward the end of the press conference, a reporter asked Escalon, “Did you follow best practices for active fire scenarios?”
Escalon did not respond, instead telling reporters, “I have taken all of your questions into consideration…we will answer those questions.”
In 2014, the FBI released a study of 160 active shooter incidents since 2000. It highlighted “damage that can occur in minutes”, noting that the vast majority of active shooter incidents ended in five minutes or less – – and more than a third of those whose duration could be determined ended in two minutes or less.
“Officers must operate in a way that not only protects their safety, because a dead officer is not going to [help]but at the same time, the absolute number one priority for a law enforcement officer responding to the scene is to prevent people from being killed or injured,” Cohen said.
“That’s why they’re there,” Cohen said. “That’s why they took the oath.”
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