Is ‘Defund the Police’ Affecting Officers’ Crisis Response?
On Tuesday, multiple law enforcement sources told ABC News that the Uvalde Police Department and Uvalde Independent School District were no longer cooperating with the Texas Department of Public Safety’s (TDPS) investigation into the May 24 school shooting in which an 18-year-old man walked into Robb Elementary School and killed 19 students and two teachers in a classroom. This development only adds to the unfolding drama in which nearly every detail appears to contradict early reports, and the most basic questions remain unanswered, more than a week later.
Before entering the school, the shooter shot his grandmother in the face and crashed her truck in a ditch near the school. Although at first reported dead, thankfully the grandmother has survived and is in stable condition. His grandfather suggested they were arguing over a phone bill, but the shooter sent private Facebook messages indicating prior intent. On Tuesday, an unnamed family friend tipped off the New York Post that the grandmother was employed at the school, but the shooter’s motive remains unknown.
According to the timeline TDPS presented on Friday, the shooter crashed the truck into a ditch at 11:28 a.m. and began firing at people at a funeral parlor across the street from the school. At 11:30 a.m., a 911 call reported a gunman at the school. The shooter then climbed an 8-foot-high chain-link fence and walked inside the school at 11:40 a.m. Police arrived at 11:44 a.m., 14 minutes after the 911 call was placed, although the police department is only a four-minute drive away. The officers’ response time remains unexplained.
The shooter entered the school unopposed through a back door that was supposed to remain locked. First reports indicated the shooter “had a confrontation with an armed security guard before getting in.” But last Thursday, TDPS admitted, “there was not an officer readily available and armed.” Last Friday, TDPS said the shooter entered through a door a teacher had propped open. But on Wednesday, the story changed again, when they said, “We did verify she closed the door. The door did not lock … and now investigators are looking into why.”
After arriving at the school at 11:44 a.m., law enforcement did not breach the classroom until around 12:40 or 12:50 p.m. According to TDPS on Thursday, officers immediately engaged, but then retreated after exchanging gunfire and called for “additional resources, such as body armor, precision riflemen, and hostage negotiators,” at which point the shooter barricaded himself inside. No satisfactory explanation has been offered for why the officers retreated, or how an 18-year-old loner was able to outwit and outshoot an entire police department.
Lengthy media reports detail parents complaining that they rushed to the school on hearing the news, only to find law enforcement officers gathered outside. Videos posted to social media show parents yelling at the officers who blocked them from entering the school. There are reports that one parent was handcuffed, another tackled, and a third pepper-sprayed.
Authorities said police presumed all children in the classroom were dead, so that it was no longer an active shooter situation. But video obtained by ABC News records a dispatcher relaying information to officers on the ground, “child is advising he is in the room, full of victims.” For that horrible hour, it turns out, children in the school kept calling 911. It’s unclear why, if police knew this information, they didn’t act on it.
When agents from Border Patrol’s tactical unit (BORTAC) arrived from 40 miles away, local law enforcement told them to wait. ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents who arrived at around the same time were tasked with pulling children out the windows of other classrooms. “BORTAC agents waited about 30 minutes and then decided to ignore local law enforcement’s request to remain outside, entering the school and neutralizing the gunman,” reported National Review’s Zachary Evans. What further backup local police expected is unclear.
As the investigation continues to unfold, it’s likely that more information will be uncovered, and it’s possible more details of the story will prove inaccurate. At a press conference last Friday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) protested, “I was misled, and I am absolutely livid.” Even the police union is fed up. “There has been a great deal of false and misleading information in the aftermath of this tragedy. Some of the information came from the very highest levels of government and law enforcement,” said the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas, urging its members to cooperate with “all government investigations.”
The details officials have offered surrounding the Uvalde school shooting just don’t add up, but it seems at least some of the blame rests with local law enforcement’s poor decision-making. This could account for the initial false reports, if certain persons lied to cover up for mistakes they or their colleagues made. “From the benefit of hindsight,” admitted TDPS Director Steven McCraw, telling police to wait for backup “was the wrong decision, period.”
But it’s not just hindsight. According to Uvalde’s active shooter training, conducted only two months ago, an “officer’s first priority is to move in and confront the attacker.” It makes crystal clear the police officers should hunt down the culprit immediately, even if it means acting solo, and “will usually be required to place themselves in harm’s way and display uncommon acts of courage to save the innocent.” This was the school’s second active shooter drill in as many years, but the police didn’t follow their own training. How many lives in that classroom might have been saved if the police had been bolder?
The changing narrative of the Uvalde investigation bears implications for a prudent policy response. First, before we jump to any conclusions about how to solve a problem, let’s first ensure we have the facts straight and establish what went wrong. Second, in cases where gross human error seems to be the primary cause of a tragedy, as in Uvalde, sweeping policy changes, like federal gun control legislation, may not be the appropriate solution. Humans can err under any policy regime. The situation may call for increased review, testing, and training. On Wednesday, Governor Abbott ordered immediate school safety reviews, including “in-person, unannounced, random intruder detection audits.”
The most troubling unanswered question is why the police behaved so timidly. One possible answer is that America sowed the wind during the violent summer of 2020 and is now reaping the whirlwind. A substantial, well-funded and organized political movement was built around slogans like “Defund the Police,” and criticizing police not only for using force excessively, but even for doing their jobs at all. The movement even captured important prosecutorial offices and a substantial slice of the federal government. The message to police was clear: if you get into trouble in a violent altercation, you will not be protected.
The Defund the Police movement fell apart amid a crime spike and widespread public opposition, and many courageous law enforcement officers will display character under any circumstances, but it seems that many police got the message. The Uvalde shooting was the deadliest school shooting since the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, surpassing the shooting in Parkland, Florida in 2018. In both Uvalde and Parkland, armed officers lingered outside while the shooter was inside the school. The notions of progressive policing that went national in 2020 had already gained purchase in Parkland’s progressive community.
Nothing excuses the deplorable actions of the shooters or individual officers, but we shouldn’t be surprised when police respond to the signals our society is sending. If America continues tearing down police, when children call 911, help might just wait outside.
Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.