Uvalde school police chief at fault in response to shooting

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The police official charged with not dispatching officers more quickly to stop the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, is the head of the school system’s small police force, a unit usually dedicated to establishing relationships with students and responding to occasional fights.

Preparing for mass shootings is only a small part of what school police officers do, but local experts say preparing police officers assigned to Texas schools — including mandatory active shooter training — provides them with a base as solid as any other.

“The tactical and conceptual mindset is definitely there in Texas,” said Joe McKenna, assistant superintendent of the Comal Texas School District and former deputy director of the state’s School Safety Center.

A gunman killed 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School on Tuesday. As the students called 911, officers waited more than an hour to enter the classroom after tracking the shooter into the building. District Police Chief Pete Arredondo decided officers should wait to confront the shooter thinking he was barricaded in adjacent classrooms and the children were no longer in danger, officials said Friday.

“It was the wrong decision,” Steven McCraw, head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said Friday at a press conference.

A group of Border Patrol tactical officers would later engage in a shootout with the shooter and kill him, officials said. Arredondo could not immediately be reached for comment Friday by the AP.

Across the country, police officers working in schools are tasked with keeping tabs on whereabouts, working to build trust so students feel comfortable coming to them with problems, teaching addiction programs and occasionally make arrests.

The Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Police Department states on its website that its primary goal is “to maintain a safe and secure environment for our future leaders to learn and our current leaders to educate while forming partnerships with students. , teachers, parents and the community while enforcing laws and reducing fears.

Active shooter training was mandated by state lawmakers in 2019 in response to school shootings. Under state law, school districts are also required to have plans to respond to active shooters in their emergency response procedures.

Security can sometimes get lax because school officials and officers may not believe a shooting will ever happen in their building, said Lynelle Sparks, a Hillsboro, Texas police officer and executive director of the Texas Association of School Resource Officers.

“It’s always about making sure you’re ready,” she said. “People relax. It happens in every neighborhood. You can’t say it’s not. It happens everywhere. We get to the point, ‘Oh my God. It’s horrible. Security Security Security.’ The school year passes, ‘Oh, why do I have to lock my door every day, you know? I want every teacher to teach behind a locked door. That does not make it a prison system. It’s about saving lives. »

Under the incident command approach that was widely adopted after 9/11, it is not surprising that the school police chief is considered the commander, even after the arrival of officers from other agencies, McKenna said. The designated person would be considered the commander until relieved by a superior officer, but that does not necessarily happen immediately when lifesaving efforts continue, he said.

“Obviously the investigation is still ongoing, but it would make sense for a school district police chief to be the initial incident commander,” McKenna said.

While many schools across the country host school resource officers who report to their municipal police departments, it is not uncommon, especially in some southern states and major cities, for school districts to have their own police forces, like Uvalde.

McKenna said his research on school policing indicated that training and other factors mattered more than the agency managing the officers.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re in a school police department or an SRO, it’s more about the components of any good officer,” he said.

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The Associated Press education team receives support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Read more about the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas: https://apnews.com/hub/uvalde-school-shooting

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