Opinion

What went wrong in the police response to the Uvalde shooting?

The sharpest opinions on the debate from around the web

The Justice Department is launching a review of the police response to the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting, which left 19 fourth-grade children and two teachers dead last week. After initial reports of a quick response, state officials said 19 local law enforcement officers stood outside the adjoining classrooms where the 18-year-old suspect, Salvador Ramos, had shut himself in with the fourth graders. The officers were waiting for tactical gear and room keys, while a child inside reportedly placed several 911 calls. "Please send police now," she said to a dispatcher in a call 40 minutes after her first whispered plea for help. The commander on the scene decided not to have the officers storm in, believing the situation had "transitioned from an active shooter to a barricaded subject," Texas Department of Public Safety Col. Steven McCraw said. "It was the wrong decision. Period."

Criticism of the police intensified as smartphone videos circulated showing desperate parents in the parking lot of the school, Robb Elementary, begging officers who were wearing bulletproof vests and carrying semiautomatic rifles to go inside. "They're little kids and they don't know how to defend themselves!" a man cried in one of the videos. Officers stopped one parent from slipping past yellow crime-scene tape and rushing inside. Another mother jumped a fence and rescued her two children herself. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) initially praised the police response, but as details emerged he said he had been "misled" and called for state law enforcement officials to "get to the bottom of every fact with absolute certainty." What does the controversy over the response say about the ability of police to stop school shooters?

We can't count on good guys with guns

The cops in Uvalde failed the children at Robb Elementary School, says Henry Olsen in The Washington Post. And this isn't the first time this has happened. The school resource officer at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, hid instead of confronting the gunman who killed 17 people there in 2018. The officer faces charges, but that won't bring those kids back. "What good is law enforcement if we cannot trust it to keep Americans safe?" The "timid response" by police in Uvalde "was not so different from the police response at Columbine High School in 1999" or at many other deadly school shootings, says David Von Drehle, also in the Post. So much for counting on heroes to save the day. "The milling cops outside the school are a strong reply to those who say the solution to mass shootings is to have more people with guns in our schools and churches, our concert venues and grocery stores."

Police need training and public support

It's "ironic" that after "police have been vilified nationwide these past two years for excessive use of force" they are now facing a barrage of criticism in Uvalde for holding their fire too long, says The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. The 18-year-old attacker spent an hour in the adjoining classrooms where he "had murdered" 19 children and two teachers. "It isn't clear if charging the gunman sooner would have saved lives, but that is what we expect of law enforcement." What is clear is that "we need the bravest to take those risks. And we need to give them the training, and the public support, to do so."

The officers had training but didn't follow it

The Uvalde police had training in how to confront an active shooter, says retired FBI agent Katherine Schweit, who created the agency's active-shooter program, in The New York Times. "In the past two years, the Uvalde school district has hosted at least two active shooter trainings ... One of them was two months ago. Current protocol and best practices say officers must persistently pursue efforts to neutralize a shooter when a shooting is underway. This is true even if only one officer is present." These officers had received instructions on how to save lives. The question is why they didn't follow them.

A full investigation is the only way to restore trust

Gov. Abbott has promised "the truth will emerge" in a thorough investigation, says the Houston Chronicle in an editorial. Let's hope so. That's the only way to restore public trust in the people who are sworn to protect us and our children. "We hope the false narratives in this case don't make suffering Uvalde families any more vulnerable to the kind of online harassment and outrageous hoax accusations that Sandy Hook parents have endured for years." The authorities have failed the families of Robb Elementary. "Their sorrow and grief has been compounded by incompetence and apparently faltering courage. Truth is the very least we owe them."

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