Texas shooting: school police chief blamed

The police officer charged with failing to dispatch officers to stop the shooting at a school in Uvalde, Texas, is the head of the school system’s petty police force, a unit usually dedicated to building relationships with students. and responding to occasional battles.

Preparing for mass shootings is a small part of what school police officers do, but local experts say the preparation for officers assigned to Texas schools — including mandatory active shooting training — provides them with as solid a foundation as any.

“The tactical, conceptual mindset is definitely there in Texas,” said Joe McKenna, Deputy Superintendent of the Comal School District in Texas 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. While students called 911, officers waited more than an hour to break through the classroom after following the gunman into the building. District police chief Pete Arredondo decided officers should wait to confront the gunman because he believed he had been barricaded into adjacent classrooms and children were no longer at risk, officials said Friday.

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

A group of tactical Border Patrol officers would later engage in a shootout with the gunman and kill him, officials said. Arredondo was not immediately available for comment by the AP on Friday.

Across the country, police officers who work in schools are tasked with monitoring who is coming and going, building trust so students feel comfortable with those with problems, teaching drug abuse programs and, and then, making arrests.

The Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Police Department says 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 teach, while forming partnerships with students, teachers, parents and the community, while enforcing laws and reducing fears.”

Training for active shooters was mandated by state lawmakers in 2019 in response to school shootings. Under state law, school districts must also have plans in place to respond to active gunmen in their emergency procedures.

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

“It’s always about being prepared,” she said. “People become relaxed. It happens in every neighborhood. You can’t say it isn’t. It happens everywhere. We get to the point, ‘Oh my god. This is terrible. Safety Safety Safety.’ The school year goes by, ‘Oh, why do I have to lock my door every day, you know? I wish every teacher would teach behind a closed door. It doesn’t make it a prison system. It’s about saving lives.”

Under the incident command approach widely adopted after 9/11, it’s not surprising that the school’s chief of police 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 senior officer, but that may not necessarily happen immediately as efforts to save lives continue, he said.

“Of course it’s still an ongoing investigation, but it would make sense that a school district police chief would be the first incident commander,” McKenna said.

While many schools across the country house school officials who report to their municipal police departments, it is not uncommon, especially in some southern states and large cities, for school districts to have their own police forces, such as Uvalde.

McKenna said his research into school police indicated that training and other factors were more important than which agency directed the officers.

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

The Associated Press education team is supported by New York’s Carnegie Corporation. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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