Analysis: Breaking down the ALERRT report on the Uvalde school shooting response
The document contains a detailed timeline of the incident, including a discussion about breaching assessment and opportunities
By Philip Paz
On May 24, 2022, a man carrying a rifle walked into Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Inside the school, the man opened fire in a classroom. Before his rampage was over, 19 children and 2 teachers were shot and killed.
After the tragedy, the Texas Department of Public Safety asked officials with Texas University’s Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) to conduct an assessment of the law enforcement response.
On July 6, ALERRT released its Robb Elementary School Attack Response Assessment Report. The 26-page document contains a detailed timeline of the incident, including a discussion about breaching assessment and opportunities. The report also includes photographs of school windows and doors and overhead diagrams of classroom layouts. It is well written and very informative. I urge everyone in law enforcement to read this report (available below) in its entirety.
The role of after-action reviews
The ALERRT authors preface the report by saying it is not meant to demean the actions of law enforcement on the scene, but rather to improve future responses. They explain that the report details actions that worked well and actions that did not.
In my 40 years in the military and law enforcement, I have participated in hundreds of critical incident debriefings. Actions that worked well or did not work well were discussed at length, sometimes passionately and at times even heated. Law enforcement should welcome after-action reports, debriefings and discussions of critical incidents. They are very important and necessary to the improvement police training, equipment and tactics.
The incident unfolds
The report says one of the first responding officers drove through the parking lot of the school at a high rate of speed. The suspect was in the parking lot at the same time, but the officer did not see him. If the officer had driven more slowly or parked his car at the edge of the school property and approached on foot, he might have seen the suspect and engaged him before the suspect entered the building.
During my 25 years as a field training officer, I tried to teach my rookies to remain calm during unfolding critical incidents. Sometimes we have to run headlong into dangerous situations, but we must also avoid tunnel vision. It is completely understandable why this officer was speeding to the school. He was responding to children in mortal danger. At the same time, we must keep a “soft focus” or scan around our target area with our eyes and peripheral vision. Suspects may be waiting to ambush officers as we rush past. Keeping your head on a swivel is important when responding to a high-stress event.
Long-distance rifle training
Moments before the shooter entered the elementary school property, he was involved in a motor vehicle crash nearby. The report says a Uvalde Police Department officer arrived at the crash site and observed the suspect carrying a rifle prior to the suspect entering the school. The officer was armed with a rifle and sighted in to shoot the attacker; however, he asked his supervisor for permission to shoot. The officer did not hear a response and turned to get confirmation from his supervisor. When he turned back to address the suspect, the suspect had already entered the school.
The report goes on to cite Texas penal code 9.32 Deadly Force of Defense of Person, which states an individual is justified in using deadly force when the individual reasonably believes the deadly force is immediately necessary to prevent the commission of murder (amongst other crimes). The report says the officer would have heard gunshots and/or the reports of gunshots and observed an individual approaching the school building armed with a rifle. A reasonable officer would conclude, based on the totality of the circumstances, that the use of deadly force was warranted. Furthermore, the report goes on to say that the officer was approximately 148 yards from the west hall exterior door, where the suspect entered the school, which is well within the effective range of an AR-15 platform.
The officer commented he was concerned about missing his shot and his rounds possibly penetrating the school and injuring students. The report also notes Texas standards for patrol rifle qualifications do not require officers to fire rifles at targets over 100 yards away. The officer may have never fired his rifle at a target at that distance. The report recognizes the ultimate decision to use deadly force lies with the individual officer. If the officer was not confident of hitting his target, he should not have fired.
As a patrol rifleman and tactical team sniper for 25 years, I had the luxury of monthly rifle training on firearm ranges out to 1,000 yards. Suffice to say, I am a huge proponent of rifle training at distances over 100 yards. Our department had a 200-yard rifle range next to our pistol range that was used frequently for training. Given the frequency of active and mass shootings around the country and the open spaces of terrain that can surround schools and structures such as malls and warehouses, law enforcement agencies should consider adding longer distance training to their patrol rifle programs.
Report addresses several areas
ALERRT deals with several topics in the lengthy report. Among them, doors left unlocked by school staff, teams of officers splitting up causing crossfire concerns, communication issues between officers and officers losing momentum while approaching the active suspect.
The report says the first three responding Uvalde officers entered the west hall exterior door and an additional four officers entered the south hall. The officers correctly moved toward the active gunfire, which was their driving force. As the officers converged on the classrooms the suspect began firing, which caused both teams of officers to retreat from the doors without ever touching the doors. The teams fell back to other positions. One team was 67 feet from the classroom doors. The distance of the team in the south hall from the doors is unknown as they were not visible on camera.
ALERRT teaches that the main priority of first responders in an active shooter situation is to stop the killing, then stop the dying. Inherent in stopping the killing and dying is the priority of life scale. The first priority is to preserve the lives of victims/potential victims, the second priority is the safety of officers, and the last is the suspect. The report says we expect officers to assume risks to save innocent lives. It is possible officers will be injured, or even killed while responding.
As a training officer, I tried to instill this concept in young recruits in the academy and later during field training. Being a police officer can be horrendously dangerous. There are times you will be tasked to perform in dangerous situations where there is a chance of being killed or severely injured. Officers should make the determination before they ever set foot in a patrol car to answer calls if this job is something they are willing to die for when the time comes. In my opinion, if the answer is “no” then you should not be in law enforcement as you are a risk to citizens, yourself and other officers. In the Uvalde shooting, the first job of officers was to immediately make entry into the classroom and stop the shooter.
Hostage barricade vs. active shooter
The ALERRT report discusses at length the escalating circumstances that unraveled over the one hour, 11 minutes and 26 seconds between officers taking static positions to when the suspect was killed by law enforcement. There is a discussion of officers believing the situation was a hostage barricade situation versus an active shooter situation. The slowing down of the officers’ assault during this time is mentioned. At one point the report says, “A reasonable officer would have considered this an active situation and devised a plan to address the suspect… it appears the officers did not make an immediate action plan.”
The report talks about exigency factors that should have prompted officers to execute an immediate action plan. It does not appear that any officer ever tested the classroom doors to see if they were locked. The report also discusses the factors that increased the officer’s capability to execute such a plan. These included the arrival and availability of breaching tools, ballistic shields, CS gas and tactical operators on scene.
Other notable information in the report concludes that it was possible that some of the people who died may have been saved if they had received more rapid medical care. Also, it does not appear that effective incident command was established during this event, which likely impaired the "stop the killing" and "stop the dying" components of the response. The final part of the report addresses incident command issues.
I urge law enforcement personnel at every level to study this very informative ALERRT report. Given the history in our country, active shooter situations will undoubtedly occur again. Law enforcement personnel need to learn as much as possible from prior tragic incidents.
About the author
Philip Paz spent 24 years with the USAF in the Security Police Field retiring as an SMSgt and 29 years with the Oklahoma City Police Department working the streets in patrol for 25 of those years as a training officer and member of the tactical team as a sniper/operator/team leader.