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Sunday, May 29, 2022

The Insanity of the Uvalde Massacre and Response (Yes, I Offer a Solution)

 The story I'm about to tell you is absolutely true. It is the result of my 24 years of police service in a town somewhat smaller than Uvalde, Texas. 

As I watched the horrible non response of Uvalde police officers last week to a school shooting that left 21 dead and a subsequent conclusion carried out by a Border Patrol swat team a full hour after the shooting began, I simply stared in amazement. I couldn't get enough of this story. If you want the raw definition of the term "clusterf**k", I can think of no better example than the Uvalde massacre. 

Early on in my career, I was involved in a couple of armed standoffs. These are barricaded suspects who are armed and refuse to come out and be arrested or evaluated. In a rural, small town setting, these standoffs often do not go well. In one of them, the suspect jumped out the back window and got away. Because of my failures at resolving issues like this in any sort of professional way, I became intrigued with solving the problem. This is doubly difficult in a small town agency where the absolute total amount of officers available can range from only 4 to 8 on duty and nearby at any given time. So I set about the task of handling barricaded suspects effectively and even more importantly, I searched for and found a winning solution for resolving hostage taking events and responding to an active shooter in any one of our 3 schools. Those two scenarios require different police strategies but have some overlap.

Fully staffed on any given school day meant a total of 4 officers. That's the Chief, a supervisor, a patrolman, and a school resource officer. Typical small town policing- but you should be able to muster at least 3 responders even in very rural places.

I read everything I could get my hands on. SWAT style teams were essentially useless for immediate response. Not only did they have a terrible track record, they had never prevented a loss of life at a school shooting. It simply takes too long to assemble them for that specific purpose. That's not to say SWAT teams have no purpose. They just can't arrive fast enough to prevent a loss of life within a school because school shooters have the element of surprise on their side. 

So it was obvious to me that the officers on duty, on any given day, were the ones that were going to have to train and drill. They would be the first responders.

My first stop was a hostage negotiating school. It was there that I learned the nuances of negotiation and most importantly, controlling exits and entrances. 

It was about this time that I first listened to Colonel Grossman of "Killology" talk. Grossman was highly critical with the response at the Columbine shooting. 

Grossman offered up a strategy where four people, armed with semi automatic rifles and perhaps a shot gun, could form a diamond formation, sweeping hallways and rooms. Two men would remain in a hallway while two would sweep a room and move on.  The man at the rear would face the rear to prevent any flanking attack. Responders would have helmets, ballistic shields and vests, and the appropriate firearms in squad cars.

This solution would work for a small agency. The manpower and the armament are adequate for the job. But I think the most key component of all is to train and drill, including at least two live drills per year. You can also train for the unknown. Suspects who chain doors from the inside, trip wires and bombs and counter surveillance. 

Not only does training acclimate responders with the school floorplan and other contingent problems of the response- it serves notice to would be school shooters that law enforcement are prepared. It has a deterrent effect. It also bolsters the confidence of responders. 

We have emergency operation plans for all sorts of disasters- yet here we are 3 decades in- and there are still jurisdictions with no definable plan. Those places would be better off just handing out pistols to school personnel every morning.*

It is interesting to note that the Uvalde school had a security guard who was not present when the shooting began. Do you think the shooter knew that? Of course he did.

I used to work with a police officer, later a Sheriff, who was always critical of anything he deemed as "armchair quarterbacking." Yet it is those failures with a decades long phenomenon of school shooters, that gives us our best education. We know what doesn't work. We've seen that.

Find something that will work. 

So tilting the odds in favor of the responders is tactically sound. We have a superior number of responders, well armed and protected, confident in their abilities to carry out this mission if the need ever arises and overcoming the fear of a one on one gun battle. Ask General Custer about superior numbers.

In an odd sort of way, I was never able to implement this type of emergency response. I had all the pieces in place, yet I retired in 2007. I checked to see if this type of response was ever seriously considered or implemented. I am sorry to say it was not. That's fine. Like Uvalde, it probably won't happen there. "Passing out the pistols, Archie Bunker style of enforcement" here: