New details on the apparent failure of local law enforcement to respond swiftly to the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, were raising questions on Saturday about the effectiveness of police procedures introduced after the 1999 Columbine shooting in Colorado.
After three days of contradictory accounts of the police response tothe attack that left 19 children and two teachers dead in the small south Texas city, it emerged that the decision by police to wait outside the classroom where the 18-year-old gunman was barricaded appears to contravene federal and state guidelines, developed over two decades, that prioritize police disabling the gunman.
In Texas, Uvalde officers received their latest training in recent months with protocols advising that an “officer’s first priority is to move in and confront the attacker. This may include bypassing the injured and not responding to cries for help from children,” according to policy.
The chief of that area’s schools police department, separate from the city’s police force, is Pedro Arredondo, who was incident commander during Tuesday’s shooting, and who has been described by the authorities as having made the “wrong decision” by delaying the storming of the classroom until federal agents arrived.
He completed the most recent training course in December on dealing with gun attacks, NBC News reported, and had been in post since 2020.
It is not yet clear what exact situation Arredondo thought his officers were confronting and there are different response protocols for different variations on a shooting incident. Arredondo has not responded to media requests for comment.
But unnamed law enforcement officials told the Associated Press on Saturday that officers from other agencies had urged the school police chief to let them move in sooner.
Audio recordings from the scene capture officers from other agencies telling Arredondo that the gunman was still active and that the priority was to stop him, a source told the news agency.
The Washington Post, citing a US Customs and Border Protection official, said an off-duty Border Patrol tactical agent had arrived outside the classroom where the school police officers had been waiting an hour and “basically said let’s get this done” before storming in and killing the gunman.
The attacker was a local man, Salvador Ramos, who had recently turned 18, allowing him to buy weapons and ammunition legally.
“They have not told me they were frustrated,” the official said of the federal agents who responded. “But they told me it was hard to discern who was in charge.”
The Texas governor, Greg Abbott, said on Friday that he believed he had been 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 did they not choose the strategy that would have been best to get in there and to eliminate the killer and to rescue the children?” the governor added.
Since the Columbine school massacre in 1999, many police departments have trained officers to go after an attacker as a matter of priority. After the shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, the FBI was given jurisdiction over mass shootings.
That led to a series of FBI initiatives to train local law enforcement agencies in how to respond, including the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (Alerrt) program, which was developed in Texas.
Agents are tasked with training law enforcement and other first responders to ensure that protocols for responding to active shooter situations 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 issue of local law enforcement came up after the 2018 Parkland, Florida, mass shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas high school, where a 19-year-old ex-pupil from the school killed 17 and wounded 17 others.
The former Broward county deputy sheriff Scot Peterson, who had hidden while the gunman rampaged, was criminally charged with child neglect resulting in great bodily harm, culpable negligence and perjury.
Florida prosecutors described Peterson’s actions as “unprecedented and irresponsible”.
Peterson is scheduled to go to 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 capability and about 40 officers. But command of the incident was taken by Uvalde Consolidated Independent school district police department, a separate division that has six officers and oversees security for eight local schools, the Washington Post reported.
According to Uvalde’s school district police Facebook page, the small department hosted active shooter training at Uvalde high school in March.
“Our overall goal is to train every Uvalde area law enforcement officer so that we can prepare as best as possible for any situation that may arise,” it read.
In 2019, the Texas legislature passed a measure requiring that all school police officers undergo the training, and noted the shift in law enforcement tactics since Columbine and the failures of the Parkland response. An arriving officer’s “first priority is to move in and confront the attacker,” the state curriculum advises.
“First responders to the active shooter scene will usually be required to place themselves in harm’s way and display uncommon acts of courage to save the innocent,” the Texas curriculum states.
The 2020 state manual adds: “A first responder unwilling to place the lives of the innocent above their own safety should consider another career field.”