Uvalde’s parents had good reason to expect the police to do more

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It’s hard to imagine a more righteous anger than that of parents kept at bay at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday. An armed man was inside the building with their children while police were outside, restraining them. Any parent can explain the often irrational anguish that stems from the involuntary separation of their children. That the immediate barrier between these parents and their children is the police, the people responsible for keeping these children safe, must have been completely enraged.

What is still not entirely clear is to what extent this anger was justified. There were police outside, managing the crowd, but there also appear to have been police inside the school. The parents were furious that the police outside were not acting to protect their families, but they couldn’t see what was happening inside the school walls.

We can say with some confidence that the police outside the building may not have communicated clearly with these parents, given how the public story of the law enforcement response has since evolved. the slaughter. We can also say with some confidence that the response did not reflect the expectations Uvalde residents likely had of their police force.

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Again, our understanding of what happened at the scene still contains gaps (in part due to ever-changing accounts from local and state officials). But what we do know is not how we might expect police to react to a shooting incident in the abstract.

The shooter, Salvador Ramos, shot his grandmother and then drove to the school, crushing his truck nearby at 11:28 a.m. For more than 10 minutes he remained outside the school sporadically firing his weapon. He then walked inside without being confronted by any school guards, as originally reported.

Mario Jimenez spent hours outside Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, before learning his fourth-grade son was safe after the May 24 shooting at the school. (Video: Alice Li, Jared Moosey, Whitney Leaming/The Washington Post)

It is worth noting that the school was only a few blocks from a police station, less than five minutes away. A recurring theme in this discussion is that we should recognize that we cannot speak for all the decisions made by the police or know the contributing factors that may have affected the response. But this is not the case as the school was located in a remote and difficult to reach part of town.

Police arrived four minutes after Ramos entered the school and, according to a state official, attempted to engage him. Ten minutes later someone recorded a video of parents expressing their frustration with the police outside.

Now the questions turn to what was going on inside. It wasn’t until 1:06 p.m., more than an hour after this video of the frustrated parents was filmed, that police announced that Ramos had been incapacitated. What were the police doing inside the school in the meantime? At a press conference on Friday, authorities offered a simple and grim answer: nothing. They waited for reinforcements.

Speaking to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Thursday, an officer with the Texas Department of Public Safety explained an apparent reason for the delay.

Blitzer asked Lt. Chris Olivarez if it wasn’t true that best practice dictated engaging with an active shooter as soon as possible. Olivarez acknowledged it was okay – then added a caveat.

“They don’t know where the shooter is. They hear gunshots. They get shots,” he said. “At that time, if they went any further without knowing where the suspect was, they could have been shot, they could have been killed, and at that time, this shooter would have had the opportunity to kill d ‘other people inside this school.’

Victor Escalon, regional director for the South Texas Department of Public Safety, spoke about an investigation into the May 24 shooting in Uvalde, Texas. (Video: AP)

He argued that officers did indeed keep Ramos confined to a classroom – but other reports have suggested Ramos barricaded himself in that room to protect himself from police. The Associated Press reported that police waited for a school official to arrive with a key to subdue Ramos.

We cannot, however, ignore Olivarez’s other point, which is that the officers were afraid to advance at the risk of being shot down. We should apply the same caution to his presentation of the officers’ state of mind as to any other second-hand commentary. But if true, it’s a remarkable departure from what the public has come to expect from law enforcement.

The Uvalde Police Department had a Special Weapons and Tactics Team (SWAT) which it promoted on its Facebook page. In February 2020, the department informed residents that it would “visit CISD Uvalde Schools, Uvalde Classical Academy and local businesses throughout the day” to “acquaint themselves with the layout of our local schools and businesses. It probably served some purpose for the officers, but it was also a demonstration of skill for the public. As Researcher Pete Kraska noted, however, these units are often less well trained than one would expect. The vast majority of the time in small towns, it wouldn’t matter; there simply wouldn’t be many points where a well-trained SWAT deployment would be needed.

This discrepancy between what we expect of law enforcement personnel and the demands placed on them is significant. Over the past decade, there has been an increase in public support for police officers, often as a political reaction to questions about law enforcement raised by the Black Lives Matter movement. Americans have understandably been quick to identify police officers as heroes willing to lay down their lives for the public, an impulse unfortunately tied to partisanship. Any indication that the police have been unable or unwilling to maintain this trust is disconcerting.

Being a police officer means taking risks. It means being prepared to enter dangerous situations. Fortunately, however, being a police officer has become less deadly over the past few decades. From 1977 to 1981, an average of 212 police officers died in the line of duty on average each year, according to data compiled by the Officer Down Memorial Page. From 2017 to 2021, the average was 170 – excluding covid-19 deaths.

That’s as the number of police increased, of course. From 2000 to 2005, there were an average of 27 officer deaths per 100,000 police officers (according to occupational data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics), excluding 9/11 related deaths. From 2015 to 2019, the average was 20 deaths per 100,000, excluding deaths related to 9/11 disease. If we include deaths related to 9/11, the decline was 30 to 25 per 100,000.

Business Insider looked at BLS data from 2020 and determined the deadliest occupations relative to employment. Those most at risk were those working in fishing and hunting, followed by logging and roofing. Police officers rank 18th, just ahead of maintenance and repair workers.

This amplifies the contrast between public expectations and police response. Residents of Uvalde were told that the police had an elite group ready to rush into danger on their behalf and that Americans generally stepped up to defend the police as protectors – defend them politically for the police themselves have become more secure thanks in part to steadily increasing public spending on law enforcement.

So these parents were there, outside the school with the police, while their children were inside with the shooter. They expected more police to rush; some parents even floated around with the idea of ​​running within themselves. One mother did, according to the Wall Street Journal: After being stopped by police, she found an unguarded area and snuck into the building to get her children out. But what the parents saw was a caution they found inexplicable. What one official told Wolf Blitzer was that “caution” was also the watchword within the school walls.

It was an incident. But the conflict between what we were told to expect from the police and what we currently understand to have happened in Uvalde demands resolution.

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