DOJ: Law Enforcement’s Response to Uvalde School Massacre a ‘Significant Failure’

The scathing report also cited poor campus security and lack of pre-incident preparation as contributing to the poor Uvalde shooting response.

DOJ: Law Enforcement’s Response to Uvalde School Massacre a ‘Significant Failure’

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) released its report on Thursday on the May 24, 2022 mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas that killed 19 students and two educators and injured 17 others. The scathing report found law enforcement’s response to the active shooter was a “significant failure” and that responding police officials “demonstrated no urgency.”

“The victims and survivors of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School deserved better,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.

According to the report, “The most significant failure was that responding officers should have immediately recognized the incident as an active shooter situation, using the resources and equipment that were sufficient to push forward immediately and continuously toward the threat until entry was made into classrooms 111/112 and the threat was eliminated. Since the tragic shooting at Columbine High School in 1999, a fundamental precept in active shooter response and the generally accepted practice is that the first priority must be to immediately neutralize the subject; everything else, including officer safety, is subordinate to that objective.”

The report cited failures in leadership, command, and coordination.

“None of the law enforcement leaders at the scene established an incident command structure to provide timely direction, control, and coordination to the overwhelming number of responders who arrived on the scene,” the report said. “This lack of structure contributed to confusion among responders about who was in charge of the response and how they could assist.”

Below are some of the specific points highlighted in the report on police response to the Uvalde shooting, family reunification, trauma and support services, school safety and security, and pre-incident planning and preparation.

Law enforcement’s response to the Uvalde school shooting:

  • Within 3 minutes of the gunman’s entry into Robb Elementary, 11 Uvalde Consolidated ISD (UCISD) police officers and Uvalde Police officers arrived on campus.
  • Five of the officers ran towards the classrooms where two of the officers were hit with shrapnel from gunfire from the shooter, so all of the officers retreated and took cover.
  • After three attempts to approach the classroom, the focus shifted from entering classrooms 111/112 and stopping the shooting to evacuating other classrooms, attempting to negotiate with the subject, and requesting additional support.
  • UCISD Chief Pete Arredondo directed officers to delay making entry to classrooms 111/112 in favor of searching for keys and clearing other classrooms.
  • Although there were hundreds of officers who eventually arrived at the scene, leadership had not established command and control, so arriving officers didn’t receive accurate information on the situation. Many officers incorrectly believed the shooter had been killed, based on inaccurate information at the scene and shared over the radio or from them observing the lack of urgency toward entering the classrooms.
  • 48 minutes after the gunman entered campus, he fired four more shots inside classrooms 111/112. Although officers moved forward into formation outside the classroom, they did not enter. Instead, they assumed the classroom doors were locked and tested to see if the keys they had worked on a door for a nearby janitor’s closet. They did not work, so officers searched for other keys and breaching tools.
  • With keys in hand, the officers waited to see if a sniper and a drone could see the gunman and eliminate him through the window.
  • 75 minutes after police arrived on campus and 27 minutes after law enforcement heard multiple gunshots inside classrooms 111 and 112, officers opened the door to room 111 and killed the gunman when he emerged shooting from a closet.

Family reunification:

  • Inaccurate information combined with inconsistent messaging created confusion and added to the victims’ suffering, both on the day of the incident and in the days after the mass shooting
  • Family members encountered many obstacles to locating their loved ones, getting access to the hospital, and getting information from leadership, law enforcement, and hospital staff in a timely manner. This includes initial information posted by UCISD on the reunification site followed by a series of contradictory posts between UPD and UCISD on reunification. This added to the confusion, pain, and frustration.
  • Spokespersons for UCISD and TXDPS, the only agencies speaking publicly, did not coordinate their messaging during the afternoon of the incident. Some conflicting information was shared by the two agencies.
  • All social media public messaging was posted only in English. The one exception to this was the FBI San Antonio Field Office’s messaging starting on May 25.
  • The extent of misinformation, misguided and misleading narratives, leaks, and lack of communication about what happened on May 24 is unprecedented and has had an extensive, negative impact on the mental health and recovery of the family members and other victims, as well as the entire community of Uvalde.

Trauma and support services:

  • Once the children and adults were rescued from their classrooms during the evacuation process, they received limited instruction and direction on where to proceed. Due to the chaotic nature of the evacuation, children and school personnel were not adequately evaluated medically prior to being transported to the Reunification Center. As such, injured victims had delayed medical care and were at risk of further injury.
  • The establishment of a Reunification Center was delayed and chaotic. Families and next of kin received conflicting instructions on the location of the center.
  • The death notification process was disorganized, chaotic, and at times not conducted in a trauma-informed manner.
  • Responders were not provided timely, immediate access to trauma and support services, and many reported feeling abandoned and unsupported in the weeks and months following the critical incident. Others reported being aware of the services but electing not to use them.
  • Shared trauma is a concern for the Uvalde community due to compounding factors, including the size of the community and its interrelatedness. For the hundreds of law enforcement, medical, behavioral health, and government personnel who responded to this incident, shared trauma can make what happened even more overwhelming. Law enforcement’s trauma is also exacerbated by the backlash from the community–as the community’s trauma is exacerbated by the lack of an adequate response from law enforcement.
  • The Uvalde community continues to need support and guidance as it struggles with the negative impacts of the failed response, a lack of accountability for those implicated in this failure, and remaining gaps in the information about what happened to their loved ones.

Robb Elementary School safety and security:

  • UCISD’s campus safety teams met infrequently, and annual safety plans were based largely on templated information that was, at times, inaccurate.
  • UCISD had a culture of complacency regarding locked-door policies. Both exterior and interior doors were routinely left unlocked, and there was no enforced system of accountability for these policies. Door audits were conducted, but not done systematically, nor were they documented. On May 24, all of the exterior doors and at least eight interior doors of the West Building, where the incident took place, were unlocked.
  • Law enforcement arriving on scene searched for keys to open interior doors for more than 40 minutes. This was partly the cause of the significant delay in entering to eliminate the threat and stop the killing and dying inside classrooms 111 and 112.
  • Four years into its existence, the UCISD PD was functioning without any standard operating procedures. A range of UCISD employees, including administrators, faculty, support staff, and police officers, told the CIR team they had no knowledge of, nor had they been informed about, their school police department’s policies and procedures. The UCISD PD has recently drafted standard operating procedures.

Pre-incident planning and preparation:

  • Responding agencies lacked adequate related policies and, in most cases, any policy on responding to active attackers.
  • The Uvalde emergency operations center (EOC) developed an adequate emergency management plan. However, not all the relevant agencies and organizations actively participated in the process, drills, and exercises which ultimately contributed to a failed emergency response on May 24, 2022.
  • The MOU between UPD and UCISD PD that was active the day of the incident failed to adequately outline the expectations and authorities for a response to a mass violence event. The agencies failed to exercise the MOU, nor cross-train in preparation for a critical incident.
  • Responding agencies had minimal exposure to incident command system (ICS)/National Incident Management Systems (NIMS). Of those serving in top leadership positions within the primary responding agencies, only UCISD PD Chief Arredondo and the TXDPS regional director had taken training in ICS/NIMS.
  • Responding officers had levels of active shooter training that varied in terms of their length of time and quality, leading to failures in operationalizing the training.
  • Personnel from responding agencies rarely trained and exercised in a multiagency environment.

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About the Author

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Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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