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Tipsheet

How the Uvalde Police Chief Might Have Screwed Up Communications During the Shooting

AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills

Pete Arredondo has been cited for his failure to act on the day of the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. He didn’t fail to respond to the scene. He was there—it was after police had arrived that has drawn much scrutiny. Salvador Ramos, 18, had entered the school with a rifle. He shot and killed 19 kids and two teachers. He was barricaded in that room with his victims. The intelligence at the time was that Ramos was alone, so police could wait for a tactical team and the keys to open the door. For nearly an hour, 19 police officers waited. Who knows how many died in that period? Who knows if a swifter response could have saved lives? We may never know, but Texas officials have changed their story some 12 times since the Associated Press released a video of parents pleading with cops to enter the school. Texas Department of Safety director Col. Steven C. McCraw has given us the most updated timeline except for how Ramos gained entry. That part was later updated. Ramos didn’t waltz in through a propped door. We later learned the door was closed; it just wasn’t locked. 

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The Texas Tribune has a lengthy piece about Arredondo’s action on that horrific day. It still comes with a healthy dose of scrutiny. The man has stopped cooperating with Texas officials in this investigation. The part that stands out here is that he’s been cited as being the incident commander. He is the police chief for the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District. He was on the scene. Why shouldn’t he have taken command? Except he says he didn’t know that. He also didn’t know about the numerous 911 calls that were emanating inside the building that pointed to the situation still being one with an active shooter and not a barricaded suspect. He didn’t know this because he ditched his radio. This cut him off from other police units from five different agencies outside of the school. The police chief ditched his radio. Are you serious (via Texas Tribune):

Arredondo’s decisions — like those of other law enforcement agencies that responded to the massacre that left 21 dead — are under intense scrutiny as federal and state officials try to decide what went wrong and what might be learned.

Whether the inability of police to quickly enter the classroom prevented the 21 victims — 19 students and two educators — from getting life-saving care is not known, and may never be. There’s evidence, including the fact that a teacher died while being transported to the hospital, that suggests taking down the shooter faster might have made a difference.

[…]

“Not a single responding officer ever hesitated, even for a moment, to put themselves at risk to save the children,” Arredondo said. “We responded to the information that we had and had to adjust to whatever we faced. Our objective was to save as many lives as we could, and the extraction of the students from the classrooms by all that were involved saved over 500 of our Uvalde students and teachers before we gained access to the shooter and eliminated the threat.”

Arredondo’s explanations don’t fully address all the questions that have been raised. The Tribune spoke to seven law enforcement experts about Arredondo’s description of the police response. All but one said that serious lapses in judgment occurred.

Most strikingly, they said, by running into the school with no key and no radios and failing to take charge of the situation, the chief appears to have contributed to a chaotic approach in which officers deployed inappropriate tactics, adopted a defensive posture, failed to coordinate their actions, and wasted precious time as students and teachers remained trapped in two classrooms with a gunman who continued to fire his rifle.

[…]

Thinking he was the first officer to arrive and wanting to waste no time, Arredondo believed that carrying the radios would slow him down. One had a whiplike antenna that would hit him as he ran. The other had a clip that Arredondo knew would cause it to fall off his tactical belt during a long run.

Arredondo said he knew from experience that the radios did not work in some school buildings.

But that decision also meant that for the rest of the ordeal, he was not in radio contact with the scores of other officers from at least five agencies that swarmed the scene.

[…]

Texas Department of Public Safety officials and news outlets have reported that the shooter fired his gun at least two more times as police waited in the hallway outside the classrooms for more than an hour. And DPS officials have said dispatchers were relaying information about 911 calls coming from children and teachers in the classrooms, begging the police for help.

Arredondo said he was not aware of the 911 calls because he did not have his radio and no one in the hallway relayed that information to him. Arredondo and the other officers in the hallway took great pains to remain quiet. Arredondo said they had no radio communications — and even if they’d had radios, his lawyer said, they would have turned them off in the hallway to avoid giving away their location. Instead, they passed information in whispers for fear of drawing another round of gunfire if the shooter heard them.

[…]

A police officer intentionally ditching his radio while answering a call? “I’ve never heard anything like that in my life,” said Steve Ijames, a police tactics expert and former assistant police chief of Springfield, Missouri.

The discarded radio, the missing key and the apparent lack of an incident commander are some of questions raised by experts about the response of Arredondo and the various agencies involved.

Officers are trained never to abandon their radios, their primary communication tool during an emergency, said Ijames. That Arredondo did so the moment he arrived on scene is inexplicable, he said.

Ijames added that it is “inconceivable” that Arredondo’s officers did not have a plan to access any room or building on campus at any moment, given that the school district makes up the entirety of the tiny force’s jurisdiction.

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It’s a fair article. It gives his side, the side of experts, and a detailed recounting of that day’s horrific events. Now that we have a clearer picture of what happened, I doubt this will make the public relations situation any better for Arredondo. The article still notes the chaotic scene, and how not having a radio could have contributed to that chaos. Whatever the case, the response to the shooting has been declared so troubling that the Department of Justice is now combing through the details. That will be the final say in this matter. 

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