How are Texas police trained to handle active shooter situations?

·6 min read
Dario Lopez-Mills/The Associated Press

Two days after the deadliest school shooting in Texas, the public is asking law enforcement: why didn’t you act sooner to save the lives of young students and their teachers?

Shooter Salvador Ramos “barricaded himself by locking the door and just started shooting children and teachers that were inside that classroom,” Lt. Christopher Olivarez of the Department of Public Safety told CNN.

Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw said Wednesday that it took 40 minutes to an hour from when the gunman opened fire on a school security officer to when a U.S. Border Patrol team shot him, the Associated Press reported. Meanwhile, onlookers were urging police officers to charge into the school.

“Go in there! Go in there!” women shouted at the officers soon after the attack began, according to the AP report.

Javier Cazares, whose fourth grade daughter Jacklyn Cazares was killed in the attack, told AP that him and other parents pressed police to move in.

“A lot of us were arguing with the police, ‘You all need to go in there. You all need to do your jobs.’ Their response was, ‘We can’t do our jobs because you guys are interfering,’” Cazares said.

The Star-Telegram spoke with several Texas police departments to find out what their active shooter protocol is, and whether it differs from how law enforcement acted at Robb Elementary School.

What does active shooter police training look like in Texas?

The Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center at Texas State University, the largest provider of active shooter response training in the country, trains police departments across Texas. While there’s not a standard protocol mandated by the state of Texas, ALERRT has been recognized by the FBI as the national standard in response training. ALERRT has trained more than 180,000 police officers across the country from more than 9,000 police agencies.

ALERRT trains police officers to respond to active shooter events in two phases: the first is “stop the killing” and the second is “stop the dying.”

In the first phase, when a gunman starts shooting victims, police officers are taught to distract, isolate and neutralize the shooter so that no one else gets hurt.

“If there are signs that there’s active violence going on, then officers then proceed to the place where the violence is happening to try to confront the attacker and stop the attack,” said Pete Blair, ALERRT executive director. “If there’s active killing going on, then containing is not the strategy.”

Blair said sometimes active shooter incidents can turn into hostage situations, where the gunman sequesters in a room with victims and temporarily stops shooting. In those instances, patrol officers are trained to wait out the hostage standoff.

“If there aren’t people being killed, then you can negotiate, you can play for time to get the SWAT team there with their negotiators and their specialists to go and deal with the bad guy if that’s what’s required,” Blair said.

The decision for police officers comes down to whether they will “push” or “hold.” “Push” means they go into the room and confront the gunman. “Hold” means they stay outside the room, try to communicate with the shooter and call a SWAT team.

“The things that they’re assessing when they’re doing that include, ‘Am I hearing active violence?’ Well, if I’m hearing people being killed, then it’s no longer a hold situation, it’s a push situation,” Blair said. “If there are people that I think are in the room that have been injured that I know that the more time it takes to get that person out into definitive care, the higher the likelihood they’re going to die, that can also create a push versus a hold type situation.”

In the second phase, after the active shooting has stopped, victims who have been injured are given immediate medical care at the scene or rushed to a hospital.

Blair said one possible explanation for officers waiting outside is that there were enough police dealing with the situation inside while others were assigned different tasks.

“Just having 50 officers standing outside that room isn’t going to help,” he said. “There’s a point after that first wave of officers goes in that just sending more officers in the building does not help you. It’s creating more problems than it’s solving.”

DPS spokesperson Olivarez said that authorities were still working to clarify the timeline of the attack and whether the classroom was, in fact, locked or barricaded in some way, according to AP. Texas Rangers announced Thursday that they will be conducting a review of how police responded to the tragic incident.

“In the current case, we don’t know what information the officers had. We just don’t know enough,” Blair said. “Until you know the full context of what happened and what the officers knew at the time, it’s difficult to make judgments about what the officers should have done.”

What do Texas Police Departments do in active shooter events?

Texas police departments said that, while circumstances might differ in active shooter situations, their focus is always to act as quickly as possible to save lives.

Dallas Police Department spokesperson Kristin Lowman told the Star-Telegram: “In any in-progress life threatening situation, which would include an active shooter, all sworn Dallas Police personnel are trained to immediately enter and address the threat.” DPD’s response to an active shooter, where any delay will result in death or serious injury, is to quickly and aggressively employ law enforcement resources, Lowman said. The threat can be addressed through the use of deadly force. “Each response is different, as each call or incident is not alike,” Lowman added.

El Paso police sergeant Enrique Carrillo says, “In an active shooter situation, standard practice is to make entry, search for, close with, and immediately stop the shooter(s). If there is a shooter actively shooting, stop the shooter. There may be situations such as locked or barricaded doors that may delay entry. But absent of that, entry should be made immediately to engage and stop the shooter(s).”

Fort Worth police officer Jimmy Pollozani said “It is the responsibility of the Fort Worth Police Department to respond, contain, and stop active shooter threats and to administer aid to any victims once any threat is neutralized. Further, it is the practice of this department, based on current industry standards and national best practices, to allow initial responding officers the authority and responsibility to take immediate action to contain or neutralize active shooter incidents. In addition, active shooter incidents are dangerous, uncertain, and quickly changing. Preservation of life is the immediate priority.”

Lubbock Police Department spokesperson Kasie Whitley told the Star-Telegram: “Our response based off the following priorities: Stop the suspect or threat, rescue victims, provide medical care, and preserve the crime scene.” Whitley said the department trains regularly to continue refining officers’ skills in order to best respond to an emergency situation. The City of Lubbock will be holding an active shooter training on Monday, June 6, “to ensure that not just the police department, but the city as a whole is communicating and coordinating for an emergency event, should we ever be faced with a heartbreaking scenario like Uvalde just saw.” She added that the city incorporates a whole-community approach to emergency planning and exercises for all hazards they may face.

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