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Police failed to act quickly in Uvalde. Experts say their inaction allowed for the massacre to continue and led to catastrophic consequences

<i>Joshua Lott/The Washington Post/Getty Images</i><br/>Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven C. McCraw
The Washington Post via Getty Im
Joshua Lott/The Washington Post/Getty Images
Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven C. McCraw

By Emma Tucker, CNN

The decision by police to wait before confronting the gunman at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde was a failure with catastrophic consequences, experts say. When it was all over 19 students and two teachers were dead.

While 18-year-old Salvador Ramos was inside adjoining classrooms, a group of 19 law enforcement officers stood outside the classroom in the school for roughly 50 minutes as they waited for room keys and tactical equipment, CNN has reported. Meanwhile, children inside the classroom repeatedly called 911 and pleaded for help, Texas officials said.

Texas Department of Public Safety Col. Steven McCraw acknowledged errors in the police response to Tuesday’s mass shooting. The on-scene commander, who is also the Uvalde school district police chief, “believed that it had transitioned from an active shooter to a barricaded subject,” McCraw said.

“It was the wrong decision. Period. There’s no excuse for that,” McCraw said of the supervisor’s call not to confront the shooter.

‘Every second counts’ during active shootings

Thor Eells, executive director of the National Tactical Officers Association (NTAO), said the commander’s determination was “100% flawed.” A barricade calls for officers to slow down their response, analyze whether the subject is alone and negotiate, he said.

“If you’re in a classroom with innocent victims and I know that shots have been fired, I need to engage you. Even if you stopped firing, I’m going to make entry into the room so we can begin to administer life-saving aid to any potential victims,” Eells said.

The delayed police response in Uvalde runs contrary to well-established, commonly taught active shooter protocol established after the Columbine school shooting of 1999, Eells said.

“Even under fire, officers are trained to go to that threat because every second counts,” said Jonathan Wackrow, a CNN law enforcement analyst. “What we saw here was that delay cost children their lives, full stop.”

As the Columbine shooting unfolded, Colorado police waited roughly an hour after gunfire erupted in the school for SWAT teams to arrive, during which two young men killed 13 people.

Prior to Columbine, law enforcement was commonly trained in tactical principles called ICE, which stood for isolate (the suspect), contain (the suspect) and evacuate (the scene). After engaging in ICE protocol, police would request a specialized unit from tactical SWAT teams that would respond and engage with the suspect or suspects, according to Eells.

The Columbine shooting forced law enforcement to reprioritize their focus in responding to active shooter situations. After Columbine, police began acting on behalf of those who are in harm’s way rather than protecting themselves, Eells said. First responders also started to undergo tactical training to prepare for active shootings, taking some of the responsibility out of the hands of SWAT teams, he added.

There are no national guidelines to standardize law enforcement’s training and response to active shooter situations. The NTAO was the first to develop an active shooter curriculum and training courses, which have since been adopted or modified by other training organizations around the country, Eells said.

The curriculum includes safety priorities to guide decision making while officers respond to active shootings, based on a person’s proximity to injury or death. They have been instructed in all 50 states, according to Eells.

All training prioritizes engaging the subject first. The safety priorities list deems hostages and innocent civilians as top priority, followed by law enforcement and then suspects, Eells said.

As their tactics evolved, law enforcement recognized that waiting even a few seconds to respond during an active shooter scenario is potentially catastrophic, Eells said. This prompted police training organizations to develop a more rapid response strategy. Now, officers are taught to do everything they can to stop the shooter as quickly as possible and even bypass helping the injured, Eells added.

“This is unfortunately an ongoing and continual learning process,” he said. “There’s a very good chance that there’s going to be some critical lessons learned out of Uvalde, which may then find their way into our recommendations of how you might alter your response.”

Case shows how rapid response saves lives

Eells pointed to a 2013 shooting at a Colorado high school that shows how a rapid response by police can lead to vastly different results. The shooting transpired within two minutes, during which a male high school student ignited a Molotov cocktail and fired his pump-action shotgun in the school, fatally shooting a 17-year-old girl.

But the attack might have resulted in many more casualties had it not been for the quick response of a deputy sheriff who was working as a school resource officer at the school, CNN previously reported. Upon learning of the threat, the deputy ran to the shooter, identified himself as a county deputy sheriff and told people to get down. While he was containing the scene, the shooter took his own life.

Ramos was not confronted by police before he entered the school, DPS Regional Director Victor Escalon said on Thursday.

While active shooter protocols are widely recognized among the 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the country, the fundamental issue is the decentralized nature of police standards at the local, state and federal level, according to Maria Haberfeld, a professor of police science at John Jay College.

“The way the Uvalde officers responded aligned with the fact that they likely did not have proper training,” Haberfeld said. Local police agencies typically rely more heavily on specialized tactical units, she said.

All law enforcement officers in Texas are trained to follow guidelines for handling active shooters. In March, the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District hosted active shooter training for Uvalde-area law enforcement officers, according to its Facebook page.

The manual states: “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.”

The safety priorities list, Eells said, would have served to guide officers in that moment. The decision to wait in the hallway rather than breach the classroom door kept innocent civilians in danger while benefiting the shooter, he said.

“All of the time that they were standing in the hallway,” Eells added, “even while they were evacuating children, simultaneous to that they should have been engaging with the suspect.”

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  1. – they are enforcers, not protectors (US Supreme Court, 2005) and they give every indication that they are afraid of someone wielding a combat weapon with high capacity – not a bad reason to restrict flooding the country with them, except for angering the profiteers

    1. Newsflash. The country is already flooded with combat weapons. If each of those parents in TX had their own weapons this could have been a little different. It’s not a good idea to depend on others, even the police, to protect you or even the most vulnerable over their own need to survive. You should arm yourself because the bad guy isn’t going to give a heck about that stuff.

      1. Then why do they need vast sums of money for the paramilitary equipment they’ve been clamoring for (and getting) since 2001? Is it really just supposed to be every man, woman and 10-year-old kid for themselves?

      2. – good thing you and your pals got your wish and get to live in a country awash in killing tools – aside from all your bluster and posturing it is hard to believe that you would act any differently than all the gun toting big hats – sorry kids, y’all are on your own – oh to live somewhere where everyone is pointing a weapon at everyone else… sounds like paradise

        1. If you don’t like it here, then by all means.. please move to Mexico or China where you can enjoy life where only the bad guys have guns.

      3. Gun kooks are always espousing the “good guy with gun” BS. Well the “good guys with guns” were there for once and it didn’t change a thing for 21 dead people!!! Total failure by the “good guys with guns” again!!!!

    2. Sort of. After one shot by the shooter, the police are then enforcers should they be attempting to apprehend someone that they believe has broken a law.

    3. With frequency at which these mass shootings are happening, maybe it’s time revisit this ruling. “To protect and serve”. Is that no longer the police force motto?

    4. Your ignorance never shocks me. Actually, it’s become expected. First of all, you love to lump all enforcement employees together with the ones that make mistakes or failed at their jobs. You obviously have no clue of what its like to put your life on the line to save snowflakes like you from evil dangerous cowards. Secondly, lets not forget, this might not have happened if a “Teacher” had not propped a locked door open, which he came through easily. You love to put blame on law enforcement, and then complain when they don’t show up for you when you’re in danger. You sicken me.
      You live under the umbrella of security of brave people, and then complain about them from the curtain of social media. You are a Coward.

      1. That’s the point. They weren’t brave. They didn’t do their job that they sign on to do and are paid by the taxpayers for doing. You are a Moron.

      2. You know what sickens me? 19 children and two teachers, not “snowflakes” but children and teachers, died because a mentally disturbed eighteen year old was able to walk into a gun shop and buy a powerful gun without any restrictions. That’s where the blame lies, not on a teacher that left a door open.

        1. If I was a parent down there, the teacher that left the door open? Yeah, we would be having coffee and the cops that did nothing…. well…. guess

      3. – if you could stop your sycophantic hero worship for just a second you might come to realize just how ridiculous you sound – seems as if adamantly ignoring what is right in front of you is maybe a form of “ignorance”?…. maybe?

      1. Do you need virtue signaling, validation, and consensus first? Just trash it. The Lol was not in regard to the tragedy, it was to the irony of people blaming, while criticizing others for blaming. But it gives people who live for being offended a reason to be offended. FYI, I saw that the LOL part wasn’t appropriate given the situation as I hit the post comment button.

  2. It is disturbing the way the media turns from praise for police to rampant condemnation. I know, new ‘facts’ have emerged, but we still don’t know for sure what happened. I have, so far, not heard that the cops in the hallway heard shooting going on. That would be crucial, because some reports indicated that Ramos did virtually all the killing in the first five minutes. Also, did any kids inside the room survive? Why is that not mentioned? The articles all imply that the kids who were calling 911 were eventually killed. That may, or may not be true. Finally, I’m guessing that the outcome would have been very similar in say Redmond or Bend, in a similar event. I doubt that our street cops have the training, the weaponry, the protective gear, to just blast through a door, and locate and kill a guy with the kind of rifle that he had. I would like it if one of the reporters asked that question of the Sheriff or the Bend Chief of Police.

  3. The investigation isn’t over. Were these experts there? It is a CNN report so obvious click bait that is anti law enforcement. I don’t believe this headline.
    Let’s place the blame where it belongs- on a psychopathic monster.

  4. Maybe there’s some ambivalence. Police officers have been treated terribly in this country over the last few years, reminiscence of how returning Vietnam Vets were treated in the 70s. Not defending their inaction here, just saying officers on the job today have to be asking themselves why they would put themselves in harms way for an unappreciative and angry public. It’s not like there are others standing in line to “take their jobs”. If they leave, quit, or get fired we’re pretty much on our own and better paying jobs out there for those who leave. Some out there pontificated it may come to this when they saw rioters burning police stations and throwing bricks at officers without any repercussions. Best keep your own weapon handy if you want to be safe.

  5. Too bad the police officers guns didn’t get up on their own and stop the big bad AR that was killing everyone. Funny, it only seems to be the killers guns that grow legs and go kill people. I guess the cops guns were on coffee break down at the doughnut shop.

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