Uvalde Confidential: Police Training is All About Self-Preservation

Police recruits take the oath. Source: Getty Images/Vox

‘Better to be judged by 12 than carried by six.’

Tragedy in Uvalde, Texas

We’ve all shed tears for the 21 lives lost just before summer break at the Robb Elementary School in the Texas town of Uvalde. Twenty-one beautiful 4th-grade children and two beloved teachers were gunned down on May 24 in another deadly shooting tarnishing this country.

Just seeing the images of their tiny coffins breaks my heart to pieces. How could this be?

40 Minutes

Folks are now asking why the cops waited 40 minutes before going in to eliminate the threat. Anguished parents on the scene pleaded with the police, who set a perimeter around the building, but, as it was alleged, were waiting for a tactical unit from the Border Patrol. “Go in there, go in there!” begged a group of parents.

“Let’s just rush in because the cops aren’t doing anything like they’re supposed to,” screamed Javier Cazares, whose child Jacklyn died that day. According to cellphone video, cops threatened to tase the desperate parents who wanted to take matters into their own hands.

Immobilized cop speaking to angry parents. Source: NBC News
Handcuffed Mom Warned

And then there’s the story of Angeli Gomez, a farmworker who ran to her car from the fields upon hearing there was an active shooter at her kids’ school. She arrived at the school and confronted the police about their inaction. Gomez was temporarily handcuffed by federal authorities.

When she was uncuffed, Gomez hopped a fence, entered the school, and was photographed carrying both of her children out of the building (the two were not in 4th grade and thus were not the targets on that particular day). She said she saw no police in the school.

According to Mother Jones, when Gomez returned home with her kids, she received a call from law enforcement warning her she could be charged with “obstruction of justice” if she took her story to the media. Gomez promptly called CBS News.

Cops performing “crowd control” at Uvalde. Source: The Independent
How Could This Happen?

The shock and outrage we all feel boil down to this scenario: An active gunman is roaming the hallways of a school with impunity for over an hour while police wait outside. The incident commander, school district police chief Peter Arredondo, is present and has the authority to act. Parents are pleading with the cops to do something. Do something.


This scenario is reminiscent of what occurred at Columbine High School in Littleton, CO, in 1999. While two students were taking target practice at their classmates inside the school, police created a perimeter surrounding the school and tended to the wounded. Students were inside the school for hours, waiting to be rescued by law enforcement. Finally, cops methodically moved through the building, evacuating students “instead of racing through the corridors, in search of the gunmen.”

In one of many postscripts to the tragedy at Columbine, Joseph Giacalone, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a retired police sergeant, told NPR, “When you have an active shooter, you have to end the threat. Because if you don’t, the person continues on killing.”

That lesson got lost in the dry Texas wind.

In police academy training, an emphasis is on officer safety and “self-improvement.” Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics
Officer Safety Rules

In trying to understand the inertia cops experience when faced with life or death situations, it’s too easy but not very helpful to call them cowardly. Policing is tough work and cops depend on their training to get them through days that most other folks would find unimaginable.

American cops are among the best-trained in the world, but what they’re trained to do is perhaps part of the problem.

We call on Seth W. Stoughton, a former cop who researches policing and especially police training. Stroughton:

Police training starts in the academy, where the concept of officer safety is so heavily emphasized that it takes on an almost religious significance. Rookie officers are taught what is widely known as the “first rule of law enforcement”: To go home at the end of their shift. A common phrase among cops pretty much sums it up: “Better to be judged by 12 than carried by six.”

Seth Stroughton
Broken System

In his article titled, 7 Ways to Fix America’s Broken Policing System, Isaac Scher writes for the Insider:

Police training across the country has no national standards and is heavily based on junk science. By and large, cops are taught…to view the local citizenry as infested with violent criminals, and to prioritize their own safety above all else. The overwhelmingly focus is on threats to the police themselves, not the public.

Isaac Scher

We should be impressed that some of the parents at Uvalde were willing to risk their lives to take on the shooter, without weapons or body armor.

But then, they had not been trained as police.

Andrew Goutman

Andrew Goutman is the editor of The Record.

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