The police officer accused of not sending officers faster to stop the Uvalde, Texas, shooting is the chief of the school system’s small police force, a unit usually dedicated to building relationships with students and on the occasional brawls responded.
Preparing for mass shootings is a small part of what school police officers do, but local experts say the preparation for officers assigned to schools in Texas — including mandatory active-duty gunman training — gives them as solid a foundation as any.
“The tactical, conceptual mindset is definitely there in Texas,” said Joe McKenna, assistant superintendent for the Comal School District in Texas and former deputy director of the State School Safety Center.
A gunman killed 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School on Tuesday. When the 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 shooter, believing he was barricaded in 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 on Friday.
A group of tactical Border Patrol agents would later engage in a shootout with the gunman, killing him, officials said. Arredondo could not be immediately reached for comment by the AP on Friday.
Across the country, police officers who work in schools are tasked with keeping tabs on who comes and going, working to build trust, making students feel comfortable, coming to them with problems, teaching anti-substance abuse programs and occasionally make arrests.
The Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Police Department says on its website that its primary goal is to “maintain a safe environment for our future leaders to learn and our current leaders to educate, while building partnerships with students, teachers, parents and others of the.” community while enforcing laws and allaying fears.”
Active rifleman training was mandated by law in 2019 in response to school shootings. State law also requires school districts to have plans to respond to active shooters in their emergency response.
Security can get lax at times because school officials and officials may not believe there will ever be a shooting in their building, said Lynelle Sparks, a Hillsboro, Texas school police officer and executive director of the Texas Association of School Resource Officers.
“It always makes sure you’re prepared,” she said. “People get relaxed. It happens in every district. You can’t tell. It happens everywhere. We get to the point, ‘Oh my God. This is awful. Security Security Security.’ The school year goes by, ‘Oh, why do I have to lock my door every day, you know? I wish every teacher taught behind a closed door. It doesn’t make it a prison system. It’s about saving lives.”
Given the incident commando approach that was so widespread after September 11, 2001, it’s not surprising that the school’s police chief would continue to be considered the commander even after officers from other agencies had arrived, McKenna said. The nominee would be considered commander until relieved by a more senior officer, but that may not happen immediately if efforts to save lives continue, he said.
“Obviously 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 resource officers who report to their municipal police departments, it is not uncommon for school districts, particularly in some southern states and major cities, to have their own police forces, such as Uvalde.
McKenna said his research on school police showed that training and other factors are more important than the agency that directs officers.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re in a school police force or an SRO, it’s more about the components of any good officer,” he said.
The Associated Press education team is supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
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