The Bunkhouse Chronicle - Slouching toward Uvalde
Last updated 6/7/2022 at Noon
Within hours of the mass murder of school children and teachers at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, public scrutiny of the law enforcement response turned accusatory, with a pile of unanswered questions landing squarely at the feet of Uvalde CISD Police Chief Pete Arredondo. Rightly so.
Post Columbine, the universal tactic adopted by law enforcement agencies in the United States has been to immediately locate, close with, and terminate an active killer. That does not appear to have happened in Uvalde.
The best, and most reliably sourced, reporting thus far indicates an abject failure at the command level. It has been reported that Chief Arredondo arrived on scene without a radio, without a rifle, and apparently also without a clue. His on-scene decision to prevent officers from immediately breaching the classroom door was utterly appalling at every level.
It was appalling because every parent who sends a child to a school in this country has the right to expect that law enforcement will respond to an active killer in their child’s classroom with speed, intensity, and violence of action. Every parent of a student in this country has the right to demand that officers are trained and equipped to the highest imaginable standard, and will arrive prepared to eliminate the threat and save lives.
There can be no compromise in properly training and equipping officers to that task.
But the reality is that law enforcement agencies are forced to compromise every single day, because the first casualty of budget cuts is always training.
Post-George Floyd, poorly reasoned movements to defund police agencies have only exacerbated existing shortfalls in officer training. It’s a simple equation: if we want better police officers, we have a responsibility to select only the very best candidates, and to train them to the highest imaginable standard. Those trainings are widely available in the United States, designed and hosted by subject-matter experts, but only when, and if, departments have the public, budgetary, and administrative support necessary to send their officers.
Those who have, for years now, been perpetuating the damaging lie of “militarized police” do no one any favors. While uniforms, weapons, technology, and tactics have necessarily evolved — and will continue to evolve — to meet and defeat the stunning variety of lethal threats that exist in our community of American sociopaths, law enforcement agencies have not been “militarized.”
If anything, law enforcement’s ability to deal effectively with active violent crime often lags well behind the capability of even unsophisticated criminals — to say nothing of highly motivated active killers who, by their mid-teens, have often spent thousands of hours receiving effective training in first-person-shooter video games.
Worse, the mass exodus of veteran law enforcement officers — and in the present environment who can blame them — has pushed many agencies across the country to lower hiring standards just to maintain minimum staffing levels. The end result of that is obvious: Lesser-qualified candidates will receive even less training, while the public rightly continues to demand unassailable integrity and zero-defect, constitutional police work.
Sorry folks, but you just can’t have it both ways.
It has been reliably reported that in Uvalde Border Patrol Tactical Officers, commonly known as BorTac, incensed by Chief Arredondo’s stubborn (and just plain wrong) refusal to immediately breach the classroom door, finally ignored his orders and made entry into the classroom with an ad-hoc team of other officers. This was the right decision made, tragically, 40 minutes late by frustrated officers in a friction-filled environment with poor communication and a chain of command made out of jello. They did so, God bless them, with a ballistic shield and within moments eliminated the killer.
What has not been reported is that every BorTac officer is also a highly trained rolling armory, with individually assigned SUVs filled to overflowing with an assortment of tactical gear to meet a wide variety of potential scenarios. They also receive many thousands of hours of advanced training to properly respond to critical incidents.
The vast majority of police officers, most particularly if they are not members of a tactical team, and through no fault of their own, do not receive anything approaching that kind of training, equipping, and preparation.
It is fair to ask what administrative fear of liability or, as in many cases I am aware of, fear of mere optics, prevented Uvalde school officers from having the appropriate equipment immediately available, including a master key to the classroom door, and the training to make it useful. Chief Arredondo, who reportedly attended recent active-killer training — which begs the question whether his officers did, too — simply has no excuses whatsoever.
His alleged reasoning — that the scene had turned from an active killer to a hostage situation — is absurd given that an immediate entry was the only solution in either case because people had already been killed and there was an ongoing and immediate threat to more life.
No rational person would imagine sending fire personnel into a burning building without the proper training and equipment, but properly addressing the necessary training and equipping of police officers — particularly school police officers —remains an agonizing tale of woe, political hucksterism, and institutional inertia.
There is a gold standard, and parents should know what it is. I was fortunate to serve at an agency, and on a tactical team, that helped create that standard. We trained at every school in our jurisdiction that would have us. Some schools, concerned about optics, would not let us, which is a shameful failure of leadership. We provided every school with a security plan unique to their situation, and immediate actions to help protect their children and staff. We trained every officer in our agency in highly realistic, and frankly quite disturbing, school-shooting and active-killer scenarios using actors, moulage kits, and simunitions.
We trained them repeatedly, and to a standard far and above the thin gruel of POST requirements. Furthermore, we trained extensively with neighboring agencies, tactical dispatchers, SWAT medics, and EMTs so that we could better coordinate our response in the critical first few minutes of an active killer incident, either in our jurisdiction or neighboring ones.
This interagency dedication to purpose paid dividends when an active killer went on a rampage at a local distribution facility and shot and killed six people.
We not only trained, we also studied. We studied every available school shooting case. And because our city was a known target of international terrorists, we also studied the horrific Beslan, Russia, tragedy, among other school-terror incidents. A lone gunman is one thing, a team of terrorists with heavy weapons, explosives, and pressure-switches creates an entirely new set of problems. It is every police agency’s solemn and sworn responsibility to have a plan to deal with those contingencies, and to train extensively and repeatedly for them.
Complacency kills. It kills a lot of cops every year. It also kills innocent civilians when police agencies are not up to the many, many challenges they are sworn to address. Chief Arredondo, it breaks my heart to say, clearly wasn’t up to the task. But the blame doesn’t end there. It falls on every one of us when we listen to that little whisper that is always saying: “It can’t happen here.”
Because it can.
Craig Rullman is a retired narcotics detective and SWAT team leader. He is a qualified expert on law enforcement responses to terrorism and active killer incidents.