Since the Columbine High School killings more than two decades ago, law enforcement training for shooting situations has evolved considerably. At the time, the emphasis was on making sure that officers secured a perimeter before moving in. Officers are now trained to disable a gunman as quickly as possible, without waiting for a tactical team or special equipment to arrive and before rescuing victims.
The approach changes if the gunfire stops, as it did in the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando in 2016, when the gunman barricaded himself in the bathroom with several victims. Barricaded hostage situations can be complex. In the nightclub shooting, the gunman, on the phone with crisis negotiators, claimed that he had explosives. At the same time, wounded victims needed treatment. When officers breached a bathroom wall, the gunman began firing again.
Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers, said that school officers had prevented many instances of violence that do not gain broad attention. He pointed to a National Policing Institute database that showed 120 cases of averted school violence between 2018 and 2020.
Mr. Canedy said that his organization had trained several Uvalde school officers over the course of four years, but that they were typically based at secondary schools, not elementary schools. He warned against jumping to conclusions about officers’ actions on Tuesday.
Storming a building too quickly could allow a gunman to escape, he said. And while capturing or killing a gunman is “Plan A,” he said, containing the person to a particular space can be an effective “Plan B” to lessen the carnage.
The Texas Rangers have been investigating how local police officers responded to the shooting as part of a broader investigation into the massacre, state officials said on Thursday.
The Uvalde school district, like many across the country, was also using measures connected to students’ well-being in its efforts to prevent violence, documents showed. The district used software called Social Sentinel, which monitors students’ social media posts for threats, and an app called STOPit, which allows anonymous reports of bullying.
Ron Avi Astor, an expert on school violence at the University of California, Los Angeles, said that while emotional supports have improved school climate broadly, those strategies — as well as the presence of campus police officers — have been insufficient to prevent suicidal, deeply troubled young men from carrying out attacks.
The focus, he said, should be on referring high-risk individuals to mental health treatment while preventing them from buying or owning guns.
“We have to start talking about shooters and shootings differently,” he added.