As regular readers know, I’ve covered the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting extensively over the years. My definitive writing on that case—The Realities And Legacy Of Newtown, Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3–was made possible by the November 2013 report of Danbury Judicial District State’s Attorney, Stephen J. Sedensky III, which for the first time provided information such as an accurate timeline of events. I followed that series with:
Sandy Hook Legacy: Governmental Lunacy, in October of 2014, A Sad Anniversary: Sandy Hook, in December of 2014, Sandy Hook: Can’t Anyone Rest? in January of 2015, Sandy Hook And Failing Mental Health, in March of 2015, Sandy Hook: The Bloody Flag Yet Waves, in October of 2016, Sandy Hook: The Bloody Flag Waves Again, in March of 2017, and Newtown Revisited in December of 2017.
I mention all of this because what may be the final official report has been released by the Connecticut State Police, some five years after the Sandy Hook attack:
On Friday afternoon, Connecticut State Police released a report on the agency’s response to the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that left 26 children and educators dead. A 20-year-old gunman killed 20 first-grade children and six educators inside the school before killing himself.
That report may be found here.
There is some controversy over why it took so long to issue the report, which is a rather bland after action report most police agencies could and should have finished in a matter of months. Perhaps some of the delay was occasioned by the political firestorm I chronicled in my series beginning with Connecticut: The Coming Storm, which took the state government to task for its anti-gun initiatives. Inputting “Connecticut” in the SMM “search” window will pull up all of the articles in that series and others related. The state police found themselves caught in lies and looked eager indeed to break down the doors of honest citizens made criminals by the legislature. Some seemed particularly bloodthirsty and ready to punish, perhaps kill, anyone defying the will of Connecticut’s anti-liberty/gun Governor and legislature. The backlash was so severe the State Police went into duck and cover mode, and even the arrogant, smirking Governor was soon forced to admit the sentiment for gun banning quickly disappeared as politicians began to see the abrupt end of their political careers on the near horizon.
The lessons of the CSP report are what one would expect of any law enforcement agency caught up in a crime like that at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I spoke to a number of these issues in my articles, but let’s review just a few from the report:
The CSP issues bullet resistant vests to its troopers, but does not require they wear them. As a result, a number of responding troopers didn’t have their vests on—or handy—which became an issue. The issue vests are also ineffective against rifle ammunition, which is true of all daily wear vests for police officers. Vest effective against rifle ammunition are far to bulky and heavy for daily wear, and are very expensive as well. That state troopers, who operate alone, far from backup and never know who they’re about to stop would not wear a vest on a daily basis is stunning, but not particularly surprising.
A substantial number of troopers responding to the school were not carrying flashlights, which was also a problem while searching and clearing the building. I found this too stunning. Even officers working the day shift find themselves indoors or in other situations where a professional flashlight is absolutely necessary, potentially a matter of life and death. Considering extremely powerful, inexpensive, small and lite weight flashlights are ubiquitous it’s strange indeed that not every CSP trooper is wearing one on his duty belt. Competent police training would include the tactical employment of such lights, which also calls into question CSP training. They religiously wear expensive and ridiculously outdated campaign hats, but don’t carry professional flashlights?
Many troopers had substantial trouble finding the school. This is not particularly unexpected, but they also had no way immediately available to them to find it, forcing their support personnel to do that work for them. This needlessly slowed the response. The troopers also had no maps—floor layouts–of “high profile areas” in their patrol districts. When they arrived at the school, they—and probably every other officer—were entering a completely unfamiliar building. Even if they had been told “the shooter is in room 302,” that would have meant nothing to them.
The report didn’t give specific times, but noted it took considerable time for their ESU—SWAT team–elements to get there. By chance, their snipers were training about fifty miles away that day, but the other elements of the team took considerably longer. This too, is not at all unexpected. The realities of time and distance make SWAT team deployment in school attacks essentially impossible.
CSP troopers, and all other officers, had real trouble searching and clearing the building. Their lack of knowledge of the layout didn’t help, but some teachers wouldn’t open their classroom doors, and it was difficult to know if a given room had been searched, causing multiple, time-consuming searches of spaces already cleared. None of the agencies had uniform search and clearance methods.
The report notes that many troopers had the disquieting experience of their fellow officers sweeping their bodies with the muzzles of their weapons. This is a substantial safety issue, largely the result of inadequate training. Inexperience in building clearance and in working with others was also almost certainly a factor.
The report also notes the crime scene was compromised by people stepping on evidence. There was apparently little control of access to the scene, and various “dignitaries” who wanted to gawk were granted access, repeatedly interfering with the investigation.
Because troopers from across the state were involved, a great many reports were handed in late, had significant grammatical and spelling errors, were missing pertinent details, and there was little or no uniformity in terms, particularly when referring to directions, doors, etc.
From the report, which seems to be an honest and relatively comprehensive effort to learn from the mistakes surrounding that incident, it’s obvious the CSP’s response wasn’t incompetent, but could have been much better. The fact that the shooter killed himself some five minutes before officers entered the school also certainly spared the officers a great deal of difficulty, and perhaps, saved the lives of some of them. From the report—and what it left unsaid and implied—if they had to hunt down the shooter, and he responded with force, things would have been much worse.
As I’ve often pointed out, the most important factors in any school attack are time and distance. Absent a nearly unbelievable coincidence of location, no SWAT team in the world is going to be part of an initial response. Seconds will count, and in the best possible scenarios, the police will be minutes away. It’s highly likely not a single responding officer has ever been inside the school, and will find virtually any school to be maze-like. Building clearance is difficult and dangerous enough without the pressing need to rush to confront a killer that is actively shooting, or might be actively killing children and teachers at any moment, particularly when officers have no idea where they’re going.
Police officers rushing into such a situation without flashlights or vests—one can only imagine what else was omitted in the report—is indicative of the fact that children and teachers hoping for rescue will probably not be attended by highly trained, tactically proficient and crack marksmen who will know enough to use safe and effective tactics. In this case, state policemen were sweeping each other with their weapons. One can safely assume some had their fingers on the trigger at the same time. It’s a miracle they didn’t shoot each other.
I’m not picking on these officers, merely pointing out reality, as any honest, experienced officer would do. Such officers would tell you, if they could, there are numerous people working in their agency they absolutely would not want to respond if the lives of their spouse or children were in jeopardy. If your loved ones need that kind of help, which officers will they get?
It’s also important to understand that for the most part, the police are not highly proficient marksmen, as I noted in Guns: Leave It To The Police.
To better understand the dynamics of police response to school attacks, consider this:
1) The first shot is fired and the clock starts running.
2) It will take some time for people in the school to understand what is happening and call the police. At Sandy Hook Elementary, that took about five minutes. In many schools, cell phone reception is spotty at best.
3) The dispatcher/call taker will take some time—usually about 30 seconds—to understand what is happening, where, and to dispatch the call by radio and/or computer, to officers.
4) Available officers—not all of them working at the moment will be available will be available–will respond from wherever they are. They will be able to drive only as fast as traffic, and basic safety, allow. If they get into an accident, they have to stop.
5) When they arrive, they may have to clear any bystanders, just as they did at Sandy Hook, before they can enter. At Sandy Hook, that took about five minutes.
6) On the way, dispatchers will be providing updates. Most of them will be wrong or outdated. Seconds count.
7) When they enter the school–at Sandy Hook–about 15 minutes after the first shots–they’ll have no idea where to go. Their only clue may be gunshots echoing off the hard concrete walls and tile floors, making it difficult indeed to determine location and distance. They may not be able to hear shots even if the killer is shooting.
8) It will take time, if the shooter hasn’t killed himself–Sandy Hook–10 minutes after the first shot, five minutes before the police entered–to find him, and to neutralize him. If there is more than one, the difficulty is not doubled, but multiplied many times over.
While all of this is unfolding, people are dying; and that’s just the initial response. As the CSP report makes clear, there is a great deal more involved, and none of it is easy.
Remember: the people that would deny teachers and other staff the ability to protect their lives with concealed handguns rely on the police to save lives. When they get there, will they have their vests and flashlights? Will they be the guys their fellow officers wouldn’t want anywhere near a dangerous situation, more of a danger to themselves than a shooter? This isn’t just a problem in Connecticut.