This week marked the second time in 10 months that police officers were called to confront an active shooter armed with assault rifles in an elementary school. But unlike the previous incident at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Tex. last May, when it took police over an hour to stop the shooter, officers at the Covenant School in Nashville, Tenn. on Monday ended the deadly incident in just minutes.
It was a “textbook response” to an active shooting situation, says Ken Trump, president of the consulting firm National School Safety and Security Services. “Get the call, get to the scene quickly, immediately move in, and follow the sound that leads you directly to neutralize the shooter—period,” he says.
Law enforcement experts and citizens commended the Nashville police department for releasing body camera footage just one day after the shooting, a sharp contrast to the nearly two months it took officials in Uvalde to release video. The videos showed several heavily armed Nashville police officers immediately rushing into the school and sweeping classrooms until they found and killed the suspect. Three young students and three employees were killed.
The shooter was taken down 14 minutes after police were called, prompting comparisons to the police response to the school shooting in Uvalde, in which 77 minutes passed between the arrival of officers and when they ultimately killed the gunman. At one point during the standoff, onlookers begged the police to charge the school. Some parents even tried breaking windows to reunite with their children. 19 students and two teachers were killed in the incident.
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“When you watch the body camera footage, you see that the Nashville police officers were more aggressive in how they pursued the attacker,” says Pete Blair, the executive director of the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) program at Texas State University. “In Uvalde, they lost momentum badly and didn’t come up with an immediate action plan.”
The Texas Tribune reported last week that officers in Uvalde felt that confronting the gunman would be too dangerous since he was armed with an AR-15, even though some officers were armed with the same rifle. They opted to wait for the arrival of a Border Patrol SWAT team based more than 60 miles away, in opposition to the mainstream police training protocols for active-shooter situations since the Columbine High School mass killing in 1999.
“Law enforcement saw the ramifications of waiting for SWAT when the Columbine shooting happened,” says Steve Smith, a SWAT team leader in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and the founder of Guardian Defense, an active shooter training program that has helped some 50,000 people prepare for active threats. “Now officers are taught to respond even by themselves. Our skills have sharpened based on incidents that have happened in the past.”
Like the shooter in Uvalde, the Nashville assailant—Audrey Hale—was heavily armed, carrying three guns, two of them assault-type weapons, according to Nashville police.
Metro Nashville Police Officers arrived at the school around 10 minutes after they were called. As Officer Rex Engelbert exited his vehicle, an unidentified woman told him that “the kids are all locked down” in the school but that two children were unaccounted for. She noted that “a bunch of kids” were upstairs, according to the footage released Tuesday.
“Yes ma’am,” Engelbert responded. He was then handed a key to the school and opened the locked entry door. With other officers arriving, Engelbert called out to form a team. “Give me three, let’s get three!” he shouted. “Let’s go! I need three!” Approximately two and a half minutes later, officers tracked the shooter down a hallway, where Hale was standing in front of a wall of glass windows.
“They heard gunfire and immediately ran to that and then took care of this horrible situation,” John Drake, chief of the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department, said at a Tuesday news briefing. “I was really impressed, with all that was going on—the danger—that somebody took control and said, ‘Let’s go! Let’s go! Let’s go!’ and went in.” He added that the shooter fired on responding officers from a second-story window before being killed.
Blair says that law enforcement has been more focused on active shooter response plans in the aftermath of the Uvalde shooting, with many police departments creating development scripts that lay out how they would handle a similar situation. The decision by Nashville police to release the body camera footage not long after the shooting is just one example of how law enforcement must be more transparent in these situations, he adds.
“It makes it look like you’re covering something up—even if you’re not—by not releasing the video in relatively short order,” Blair says. “Sometimes there can be investigative reasons for not releasing video footage, but in general I think that when the police are upfront and put things out there, even when they make mistakes, that tends to increase public trust.”
Ken Trump, the school safety expert who formerly led school security operations in the Cleveland, Ohio area, says police should move quickly to eliminate the opportunity for misinformation by providing the facts to the public. “The second biggest disaster in Uvalde after the shooting itself was the communications disaster, which by and large broke almost every rule that’s been learned for decades on crisis communications post-incident,” he says.
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