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Uvalde: Reality of Police-work and Weak Leadership

 

uvalde robb elementary school tx shooting active killer

A tragedy happened in Texas, in a place called Uvalde, in Robb Elementary School, where 19 fourth graders, and two teachers, were murdered.  That morning a POS perpetrated these evil acts. While he was solely responsible for what occurred, there were, are, and will continue to be a lot of questions of various circumstances and issues about what happened, and who took what actions when.  As with any situation like this, we have to wait for information to come out. We have to contrast that information with objective reality, and universally applicable logic, applying experience where applicable only when beneficial to understanding the situation at hand.  We have all read the articles, saw the media brigade against the responding law enforcement officers, as well as the heroic mentions of various federal special, or tactical, unit personnel.  Everything has to be put into proper context, then all this information has to be filtered through reality, as the media can sensationalize things in the wrong direction very easily.  This article will cover the issues leading up to this situation on the LE side, the pitfalls, the things that should have happened, the consistent failure of weak leadership, and what needs to change for this type of thing to never happen again.


There are many different government-funded, free to law enforcement and citizen, programs (1) that help to educate, prepare and equip for these types of incidents.  The fact of the matter is that nearly every single teacher, LEO, and FD/EMT person involved in the vast majority of these incidents have been through these types of training, often times more than once.  Of course, training is not the same as reality, and merely checking the box of doing one day of training, in service, once or twice a year, does not prepare anyone for anything, but that will get covered later on in this article.


It has been reported (2) that a Uvalde teacher had propped open a door with a rock, and then shut it after either hearing the gunshots, seeing the shooter outside, or for some other reason, but the door did not lock properly.  One of the main hardening points of any school is the doors.  Most schools that receive any kind of state or federal funding are required to have minimums for buildings, that include certain types of doors, certain types of locks, certain types of door frames, certain types of class layouts, and there are also local fire codes, as well as other codes, that all of these types of buildings must meet.  Robb Elementary was no different, except that on this day an outside door was propped open. Due to the door's faultiness or the teacher's sheer negligence, the door did not close or lock properly.  This directly contributed to the POS making uninterrupted entry into this school.  If this is, in fact, the reality of what happened, that means this teacher is directly responsible for creating an entryway in what would otherwise be a hard-to-enter target.


Once the POS was inside the school, he made his way into the first open classroom door he could find, which happened to be either room 111 or 112 per this graphic provided by local/state Texas law enforcement.  These doors were either left open or left unlocked, again this is something that goes against most school security training procedures.  It is also not known if there was an active shooter, or lock down alert sent out right before this happened, and if it was sent out before the POS made his way into the school uninterrupted, these doors should have been closed and/or locked, to begin with.  Those things did not happen here, they did not happen because the POS made his way into this classroom and this is the classroom where the murders occurred.  Yes, it is difficult to cast personal liability on those teachers that were killed, but to reject the concept because of emotion would go against learning from these incidents.  This is why we must know why those doors were open, and the exact circumstances why they were not closed and locked.


After the POS made entry into this classroom, he closed and locked the door behind him to stop LEOs from getting into the room, he then murdered children and teachers, and barricaded himself inside preparing for what was going to inevitably happen, some LEOs were going to show up with guns and eliminate the threat.  There are just a few issues here that need to be addressed before that happens, and to address them, there has to be some background information and knowledge-through-experience presented so that those who are not full-time LEOs can gain some perspective.

jersey tactical claw
The Problem:

There is no indication that the Uvalde SWAT team responded, that a SWAT trained officer responded, or even a SWAT equipped officer responded.  In fact, there are no reports of any officer responding with specialized "SWAT" type tools or equipment.  This is important to understand for two reasons:

The vast majority of public schools in the US have outward opening steel fire-rated doors with steel fire-rated frames, with security locks on the doors.  These are the types that you cannot just lockpick open quickly, and if you can, do you want to stand next door, picking a lock that someone may start shooting any second?  Many of these are also extremely difficult to open even with a conventional crowbar, and unless you have a halligan tool in your patrol car (extremely unlikely) you are not going to be equipped properly to open a door like this.  These doors are extremely difficult to open outwards without specialized breaching tools, like the JTC Claw from Jersey Tactical, that have been documented to save lives but are not issued to street officers in most places, which leads us to the bigger issue.

The vast majority of street-working officers do not have breaching tools.  They do not have access to breaching tools, they cannot request in writing up their chain of command to be issued a breaching tool, they cannot requisition one, and most often their department or agency policies forbid them from buying their own and bringing it on duty with them.  This is, and of itself, is a twofold problem as well, specifically because the average street officer is not trained in breaching of any kind (other than simply kicking a door in or breaking out the glass, which is less training but more commonly practiced) and there is big liability attached to having street officers trained and equipped with breaching tools because street officers that are equipped with breaching tools will use them when needed, which is to say more than zero if they do not have them.  This is something that makes the average commander, top brass, or otherwise chief of a department or agency shiver with disgust.

The average street officer has had some form of active shooter training, but it has very rarely involved breaching doors, it has very rarely involved locked doors, it has very rarely involved SWAT trained officers available with these tools, and this is not going to change anytime soon because of a failure in leadership in the vast majority of police departments and agencies.  Most top brass who make these policies refuse to even hear the question - "what happens when..." on any of these real-world issues.

SWAT personnel does not sit around in full kit, in the back of a bearcat waiting to be called out.  They are almost ways doing something else, or somewhere else.  Especially with smaller departments or agencies without full-time teams, if you are fortunate you have one or two SWAT trained officers show up with bits and pieces of their SWAT kit, and that's IF they even show up at all, some might be out doing police work.  The general public seems to believe that SWAT personnel and the average street officer are equipped similarly and immediately deployable with all of this "SWAT" type equipment.  This has not only never been true, but it also will never be true.  This idea needs to be immediately dispelled for the vast majority of departments and agencies in the vast majority of the USA.  It is simply a fantasy.

Uvalde was no different, and they will not be any different after this.  That is because of two reasons, the cost of implementing, training, equipping, and recertifying, and the supporting legal fees that result from having SWAT trained, and equipped street officers, as well as, weak top brass leadership who either have not enough street experience to understand this very real problem and/or are too afraid of bad press/media and do not want their street officers equipped properly to handle all types of tactical problems that they can just wipe away with the broad brush that is SWAT.  The reality is that the first officers on the scene in Uvalde were likely street officers, and being unable to breach this type of door for more than 5 minutes is a clear indication of their policies, and lack of training, which caused this bottleneck to occur, ultimately costing lives.  This started off as a training issue and quickly morphed into an equipment issue.  The topic of who makes the call to make entry into a room/structure will be covered later in the article.


Another tool that is very much needed for the average street officer, and usually only provided to SWAT officers is a ballistic rated shield.  Some info that I was sent detailed that several US Marshalls arrived on the scene and provided their issued rifle-rated ballistic shields to the CBP BORTAC officer that responded and ultimately made entry, I have not been able to 100% verify that this is the case, however, I know that around 2014 the USMS upgraded their armor and began to issue rifle rated ballistic shields to many of their agents who work the field.  Blueridge Armor supplies some of these shields.  I have personal experience with their products and I can tell you that they are good to go.  But at $2000+ for a rifle-rated ballistic shield, the average patrol officer is going to have a hard time buying one on their own dime, then add training with one, then add the fact most department policies do not facilitate having a shield at all, under any circumstances.  If the average patrol officer showed up to their department range to qualify with their duty firearms and brought a shield with them for the qualification they would either be laughed off the range or written up for being out of policy, yet in Uvalde, this is exactly what saved the entry team and the BORTAC officer who ended up putting the POS down.

Remember that every single piece of equipment, either issued by a department or agency, and every single piece of equipment that an LEO is allowed to purchase on their own and use on the street has liability attached to it, that means some lawyer in some office makes the determination, and recommendation, to some weak top brass loser who also sits in some office that street officers do not need any of this stuff.  Entry tools? Shields? They do not need them every day and they will not use them every day, so why should we spend the money to equip, train, certify and litigate the liability of these tools when we do not need them?  Tell that to the families of Uvalde.

It may come as a shock to most, but there are plenty of LEOs in the USA who do not have issued rifles or hard armor of any kind, this is especially true in very large cities that stick to the "pool" rifle thought process (just like their cars) and some of the most rural departments and agencies do not have the money for any of those things either, usually allowing their officers to purchase their own if they want to, but again, most rural departments are not very well paid, and the average LEO spending $2000+ on a shield, $300+ on a Jersey Tactical CLAW tool, $500+ on armor with plates, then add in training, self-certification, and requalification, and so on, that is a lot of money.

cqb

Then we get into the overarching topic of CQB - Close Quater Battle, or CQC - Close Quarter Combat, whichever seems to be hip to say nowadays.  The fact is that the vast majority of LEOs in the USA do not have any CQB training at all.  This is where the "train the trainer" and "check the box" training pitfall comes into play really hard.  A department will send a group of officers, in-service, to a day or two of "CQB Training" that is part of some sort of liability driven, lawyer generated, this class that is mandated to be taught to remove liability from the department and place it onto the individual LEOs.  This is usually taught by in-house "tactical" officers who may have actually gone to a good school and trained with qualified instructors, once.  This does not, in any way, shape, or form, generate proactively competent CQB-employing LEOs.  Worse yet, the average SWAT school is between 40 and 80 hours in the US, most of that school is CQB or the little concepts in action that build up to CQB concepts.  Some will argue and say that you do not need to be CQB trained to use breaching tools, ballistic shields, hard armor, or individually issued rifles, yet most departments or agencies opt for the most basic possible training available, and as few times as possible.  Just enough to check the box saying that the LEO was trained in a court of law because that is how it works legally, courts do not care that it does not work, they only care that the attempt was made to train the LEO.  If the LEO messes up because of bad or lack of quality training, the department or agency will simply wash their hands of that LEO and run them over with as many buses as possible.  If you do not believe this is true, go look at the courtroom testimony during the trial of ex-officer Kim Potter during her murder trial when she shot Daunte Wright while believing she was deploying her taser.

southland police show


The Reality:

A group of LEOs responded to Robb Elementary in Uvalde with all the basics in training that the average LEO would have in the USA, no less, likely no more.  They were equipped with the same tools that the average LEO in the USA would have, no less, definitely not more.  They met a hard-locked door obstacle that they were not prepared for and definitely were not equipped to handle.  Some reports state that not only did the first responding officers get shot by the POS either inside the school or just outside the school, but the Uvalde police chief may also have given the order to stand down, and not to enter the room because the shooter is "contained" (3) if this is true it would be dogmatic boomer tactics at their worst.  There is even the possibility that the chief did not have a radio in hand during this entire situation, which still needs to be figured out if true.

The most obvious issue that came up in the aftermath, especially on social media, is that people began to virtue signal saying they would have gone in regardless of the circumstances.  This is a childish fantasy, inspired by watching too many police-related fantasy TV shows.  In these shows the good guys usually win, the bad guys usually lose, and everything is resolved and everyone is happy.  The clear issue here is that is just not how reality works.  The only reason the BORTAC officer even went in is that he had a shield (and likely a few buddies with rifles and training) and that his chain of command did not have to do with the local police department, so his policies and protocols allowed him to disregard local brass orders.

"Well, how come the officers at the door did not just go in?"

The issue here is that if the top brass gives a order and an officer does not follow it, then either gets killed or gets wounded, that department or agency is completely within their rights to not cover that officer for any of those actions.  What that means, in reality, is that if an officer decided that they were going to shoot the lock off that door, rip the door open, make entry, and then get killed in a shootout with the POS who was in a barricaded position inside that classroom, the brass could turn around and fight any benefits for that officer's family, any pension benefits, any funeral benefits, any possible death benefits all because the officer disobeyed a direct order.  You may be thinking many things about this, but the fact is that weak brass, and even weaker lawyers of a department or agency, drool at the idea of not having to pay out for an LEO's LODD (line of duty death) and set an example of what happens when someone gets killed or injured disobeying a direct order; this is peak power ego tripping and I have absolutely zero doubt something like this can, and will, happen to give the opportunity.

Regardless, those officers should have gone in right?  Not having the equipment, the training, nor given authorization by their brass to go in, they should have disregarded all of those things and still made entry, because *insert the emotional response reason here*, and we all understand that this is a very hard situation, and even harder realization to have to come to.  This is what happens when the average street LEO is given bare minimums in training, bare minimums in equipment, and then led by cowards.  How could anyone have ever expected anything different to have happened in one of these types of situations?  This was inevitable, if it did not happen in Uvalde, it would have happened somewhere else, but it would have happened.

The issue is that most events like this are resolved by responding street LEOs who get there and stop the threat.  This happens so often, throughout the entire USA, that people seem to think that these types of situations should immediately be resolved this way, but that is simply not true, it was not true in Uvalde, it was not true in Virginia Tech, it was not true in Sandy Hook.  Back on October 2nd, 2006 a POS killed 5 Amish school students inside West Nickel Mines School, they "held" entry until the shooting started in that situation, and this was 7 years after the Columbine High School massacre.  

The policies existed during all of these incidents to "stop the threat" and whatever other verbiage used in department or agency policies, but the fact of the matter is that LEOs are not trained, equipped, or backed up to take these actions.  Weak top brass always defaults to non-violence responses and to get their "special" units to respond and to take whatever actions they believe are necessary because they are the ones that the budget allocated all the training and equipment to, not the street officers that almost always beat these "special" unit types to the scene.

There is no other profession where we would expect, and then get angry if they did not follow through, in certain situations of exigency.  Do we expect teachers to come to different students' houses every single night of the week to help them with their homework?  Do we expect ER doctors to make house visits to their patients once they are released from the ER?  Do we expect firefighters to run into a burning building without the proper oxygen or fireproof gear? Do we expect a bus driver to come and pick up a person in their personal car if they need a ride but no bus is running? Do we expect pilots to fly without the proper training?  Can you think of one situation where any other profession is expected to act during an exigency without the proper training, proper equipment, proper protocols, or policies to back up their actions?  

If you want LEOs to take extraordinary actions, you must require them to have extraordinary training, equipment, and policies that reflect, support, and provide immunity for these types of extreme exigent circumstances, but how do we get to that goal is always up for argument and interpretation.


The Answer:

This will not come as a surprise to anyone who reads my articles, but SWAT qualified, and equipped, street officers should be the absolute minimum standard for every single street LEO in the USA.  This can be done, it just costs more money and takes more time than the traditional boomer dogma allows for.  This is something that some departments are moving towards in a smaller version, by mandating that every single working street squad of LEOs have at least two SWAT qualified, and equipped, officers at any given time.  This model seems to be a compromise, but something is better than nothing.  You still risk the possibility of not having those specific officers responding right away to these types of calls because they are tied up doing other police work-related things.  This is always an issue, but if all officers are SWAT qualified and equipped that possibility is reduced.  Of course, the quality of these particular officers may be reduced because of how many would be trained in this manner but is still better than not having any responses.  

All of this costs money, a lot of money, and it requires candidates who are in the top 30% of all applicants in the USA.  But this is how you fix the current issues within LE, and this would have directly positively affected situations like Uvalde.  This is the answer, and while it is not an answer that most top brass would intentionally accept, they should not have a say.  Top brass does not want working LEOs to be equipped and trained properly, they want an army of yes men, and women, who will stand idle following orders when there's a room full of children getting killed.  Make no mistakes about this situation, the failure of this police response falls squarely on the shoulders of the current and previous top brass in the entire country.  The majority would do this given the chance because they do not care about lives, they care about their own careers.

If the general public wants thinking LEOs, those who know that it is their decision to make on the spot, and they are trained properly, equipped proportionally, with the policy that backs them up for taking this type of exigent action, then the general public must act in their own self-interest by pushing for these things.

It is paramount for schools to follow protocols, for teachers to follow proper protocols, utilizing the locked doors and safety protocols that nearly every single school in the USA has in place to stop this exact type of scenario.  Beyond that, schools should be the hardest of hard targets, they should be staffed with SWAT trained and equipped LEOs from their local departments, supported by tax dollars, and utilized effectively to not only stop these types of threats when they arise but to be effective in deterring any possible assault of this nature.  Making a school, or anywhere else, a hard target does not stop with a "gun free zone" sign, it starts with putting a competent and capable LEO with a rifle and the training to back it up on those grounds.  It starts with putting laws on the books that allow for teachers who are willing to carry a firearm in defense of their students.

Active SWAT units should be given more specialized training in hostage-type situations.  These types of situations that the average street LEO may be trained for but would not be able to respond to effectively because of their nature of them.  SWAT units should work as a primary assault force for extremely high-risk situations that SWAT-trained street officers are trained to supplement when, and as, needed.  No one is saying the average street officer is going to be riding in helicopters to calls, repelling off roofs, doing pitch-black hostage rescue under night vision, but the average street officer should not be ruled out from being able to do those things, especially if they are among the first to arrive and must take direct action.  This is where the average police officer in the USA should end up, but that is the end goal, not the starting point.

If you are a responsible citizen reading this, and you want to know how to help, go to your local schools, go to your local police departments or agencies, and ask them what their policies are and how you can help.  Talk to the street LEOs, not the brass.  The brass will give you some canned, prescripted answer, the average street LEO will tell you exactly what the issues are.  Go to your local police-related budget meetings in your city, town, or county.  Ask them if every single officer has a rifle issued to them if they have breaching tools and training if they have hard armor if they have SWAT-type training if they do not ask the people there why not.  When they tell you, "it's just unnecessary" remember what was written in this article, and fight back against them.  Ask the schools if there are medical kits, and tourniquets, in every single classroom, the answer will always be no, but that is an easy fix.  Medical supplies and the training that goes with them are widely accepted, but most schools disregard them because the "it won't happen here" mentality prevails in many of these institutions, and this is where the local community can get involved and get medical items that are designed for these types of places.

If you want to put your money where your mouth is, get a collection setup for buying these items for your local departments and agencies.  Every single police car should have breaching tools and rifle-rated ballistic shields in them, and every single street officer should be trained on their operation and implementation.  It is a start because like with all things, this is a marathon and not a sprint.  The biggest thing to keep an eye out for is boomer weak top brass that refuses to progress with the times.  There are tons of current LE-industry standards nowadays that most top brass disregard because "it does not apply" to their department, except it does.  I am willing to bet that the previous chief of Uvalde also did not believe these tools and that training was worthwhile, this is an endemic issue with police brass that needs to be rooted out one by one.
 
If you are a street LEO or a supervisor under the brass rank in a department or agency, take a hard look at your policies and if you can purchase a personally owned breaching tool and/or rifle-rated ballistic shield.  This is expensive, and maybe get the community involved in setting up a fund for this type of thing, because as with many things in police work, you do not think you need them until you realize you may not survive if you do not have them, or worse yet others who were counting on you to save them do not survive because you do not have them.

(1): https://www.cisa.gov/active-shooter-preparedness https://www.fbi.gov/about/partnerships/office-of-partner-engagement/active-shooter-resources https://www.avoiddenydefend.org/
(2): https://www.forbes.com/sites/zacharysmith/2022/05/31/uvalde-teacher-closed-a-propped-open-door-before-school-shooting-police-reportedly-find-contradicting-earlier-claims/?sh=522c701121fb
(3): https://nypost.com/2022/06/03/uvalde-police-chief-pete-arredondo-had-no-radio-at-texas-shooting-report/

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