RECOMMENDATIONS: DOJ outlines advice to prevent failures in responses to future mass shootings

These are the select recommendations from the DOJ

DOJ report gives recommendations for responding to future mass shootings (KSAT)

The Justice Department report into the mass shooting at Robb Elementary on May 24, 2022, in Uvalde that killed 19 students and two teachers includes a slew of recommendations designed to prevent similar failures in the future. Chief among them is that officers responding to such a crisis must prioritize neutralizing the shooter and aiding victims in harm’s way.

The report says “an active shooter with access to victims should never be considered and treated as a barricaded subject.” Evacuations should be limited to those who are immediately in danger and “not at the expense of the priority to eliminate the threat,” the Justice Department said. And officers must be prepared to engage the shooter “using just the tools they have with them,” even if they are armed only with a standard issue firearm, it said.

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Other recommendations address coordination between agencies responding to shootings, the release of information to the public, and providing proper support and trauma services to survivors.

The DOJ organized the review into areas of focus, providing observations and takeaways for each.

“We hope the observations and recommendations in this report will improve the preparation and response by those law enforcement agencies assessed during this review, as well as other law enforcement agencies throughout the country. We also provide this independent review of what transpired as a measure of dedication not only to those who lost their lives on May 24, but also to the surviving victims, family members, and others deeply and forever affected by this tragedy,” the report stated.

The following are the select recommendations for each area of focus.

Tactics and Equipment

  • Officers responding to an active shooter incident must continually seek to eliminate the threat and enable victim response. The shooter’s immediate past actions and likely future actions serve as “triggering points” that indicate the appropriate response should be in line with active shooter response protocols.2 An active shooter with access to victims should never be considered and treated as a barricaded subject.
  • Law enforcement training academies and providers should ensure that active shooter training modules include the factors in determining active shooter versus barricaded subject situations.
  • Officers responding to an active shooter incident must first and foremost drive toward the threat to eliminate it. In the event there are resources available and an opportunity to evacuate bystanders and victims from the hot zone, officers must balance the risk posed by evacuation versus the risk posed by remaining in lockdown and potentially in the crossfire. Evacuations in such circumstances must be conducted in the most expeditious manner, limited to those immediately in harm’s way, and not at the expense of the priority to eliminate the threat. In the case of Robb Elementary, the CIR team concludes that the effort to evacuate was protracted and should not have caused such significant delay in the eventual entry into rooms 111/112.
  • Officers responding to an active shooter incident must be prepared to approach the threat and breach or enter a room using just the tools they have with them, which is often a standard-issue firearm/service weapon.

Leadership, incident command, and coordination

  • Agency leaders must immediately determine incident status and the appropriate command structure for the event. Leadership must continually assess and adjust as the threat and incident evolve.
  • As soon as possible and practical, the lead agency should establish a unified command that includes a representative from each primary first responder agency to facilitate communication, situational awareness, operational coordination, and allocation and delivery of resources.
  • The ICP should provide timely direction, control, and coordination to the agency leadership, other agencies, and other critical stakeholders before, during, and after an event or upon notification of a credible threat. The ICP must also serve as an intelligence collection and dissemination node.
  • Agencies should create and train on a policy, and set an expectation that leaders will act in a manner consistent with that policy during critical incidents.
  • A memorandum of understanding (MOU) or memorandum of agreement (MOA) needs to be developed among agencies within a county or region that provides clarity on who is in command, taking into consideration an agency’s training, experience, equipment, and capacity to take the lead during a multiagency response to a critical incident.
  • Agencies should use the Incident Command System (ICS) for more than large-scale tactical events. They should incorporate as many of the ICS principles as possible in response to varying levels of emergencies or planned events, so ICS becomes a regular component of the agency’s culture.

Post-incident response and investigation

  • Agencies should have a formal agreement or understanding on investigative command after a multiagency response.
  • Leaders must respect the integrity of the crime scene and only access it with a declared and documented legitimate purpose. Crime scenes need to be held without contamination until completed. The crime scene team should be permitted to do their methodical work without
  • continuous interruptions by VIPs who want to enter the crime scene but have no probative need to do so.
  • Agencies in regional proximity to each other should conduct multiagency tabletop exercises for complex investigations that may necessitate mutual aid and support from each other. Doing so will build greater interagency coordination in activities like evidence collection as well as understanding of jurisdictional boundaries, capabilities, processes, and expectations among partner agencies. The tabletop exercises should include local, state, and federal agencies, as appropriate, and be designed to exploit weaknesses, uncover strengths, and develop solutions.
  • Agencies should adopt parallel investigations policy for criminal and administrative investigations, including for major incidents, while taking diligent steps to ensure that information derived from compelled administrative interviews are completely walled off from any criminal investigation into the officer’s or agent’s actions.
  • Agencies that engage in after action/critical incident reviews should adequately resource the effort to ensure high-quality and timely reports of lessons learned and areas for organizational improvement.

Public communication during and following the crisis

  • To establish leadership and a sense of order, the lead agency must be swift, proactive, accurate, and transparent in its messaging. Relevant information that is not law enforcement-sensitive should typically be released as soon as it is confirmed. However, speed must be balanced with the need for accuracy. It is critical that information is verified before it is released even when there is tremendous pressure to release information quickly.
  • When reunification is complete and the victims’ families have been notified, the lead agency should release that information to the community. This is a crucial step in unifying the community to start the healing process.
  • The lead agency should institute incident command and establish a JIC for coordinating the release of all public information, including victim information from all medical facilities that can be incorporated into coordinated news briefings.
  • When an organization recognizes that an error has occurred, it should admit the mistake and share what actions it is taking to rectify the problem and prevent it from happening again. Even when the mistake is egregious, an agency can maintain or seek to regain public trust by being open and holding itself accountable to the community. In these moments, a law enforcement agency can build community trust by holding itself to the highest possible standard.
  • In a community with a large population with limited English proficiency, officials should post emergency information in English and in other predominant languages. This inclusive approach will help ensure that critical public safety messages reach a larger audience and will help boost trust.
  • Intentional transparency is needed for the victims, survivors, and loved ones who are seeking answers about what happened; however, authorities need to provide information in a traumainformed, victim-centered, and culturally sensitive manner.

Trauma and Support Services

  • Officials should ensure all victims of a mass violence incident are screened medically and assessed for mental health concerns soon after evacuation and no later than 24-48 hours postincident.
  • In the weeks and months following an incident, victims and family members should receive follow-up or continued monitoring to ensure they are receiving the necessary mental health care and other services.
  • Victim advocates should be assigned to communicate with and assist families. Each family member of a deceased person and each injured victim should be assigned a victim advocate who works with that family/victim consistently throughout the treatment and recovery period, having frequent communications to ensure the family/victim is aware of and able to access needed services and supports.
  • Local officials engaging in trauma and death notifications should consult national resources and ensure best practices are followed when providing these notifications. Preparedness and planning can help a locality identify areas where they have fewer trained or experienced staff, thus the areas where they need mutual aid supports.
  • Leaders from responder agencies need to provide services to all personnel involved in a mass casualty incident (MCI), which for some agencies means everyone on their staff. These services should include resources on post-disaster behavioral health and secondary traumatic stress, referrals to health care providers, and peer support.
  • As part of disaster preparedness planning, communities—including law enforcement—need to plan for the aftermath of a critical incident. This planning should include generally accepted practice processes, education and training, support, and resources. A trauma-informed, culturally sensitive approach should be applied to the victims, survivors, and impacted community members, as well as responders and their families. (Recommendation 16.3) • A family assistance center(FAC) should be established within 24 hours of an incident with a security plan that includes external law enforcement presence and a process for internal vetting of providers and those seeking services. (Recommendation 18.1) • The definition of responders should be expanded, consistent with generally accepted practices, to include disciplines other than law enforcement, fire, and rescue staff, such as dispatchers, EMTs, health care providers, ambulance drivers, behavioral health providers, and faith-based leaders. This should be reflected in all support services provided by resiliency centers, nongovernmental and governmental entities, and other support service providers.

School safety and security

  • School district police departments should enter into MOUs that establish mutually agreed upon clear jurisdictional responsibilities with other neighboring agencies that are likely to respond to a critical incident on school property. The MOUs should account for not only routine criminal activity, but also critical incidents. The MOU should address the issue of unified command, in addition to incident command, and account for the capacity and capabilities of the respective agencies.
  • Law enforcement, first responders, emergency management, and other municipal government agencies should coordinate with school districts to conduct multiagency preparedness exercises on at least an annual basis. Exercises should operate in accordance with the state and local regulations regarding active threat exercises. The exercises should be incorporated into the emergency operations plans and Campus Safety Plans.
  • Communities should adopt a multidisciplinary approach to school safety that includes school police, law enforcement, school officials, mental health professionals, and other community stakeholders. It is especially important that all voices in the school community be heard, including faculty, staff, administrators, counselors, nurses, resource officers, parents, and students. Every stakeholder must feel empowered to play a role in reducing fear and raising the level of safety in and around schools. Each campus should establish and train school safety committees that will meet at least monthly for this purpose.
  • School districts should invest in upgrading or replacing all doors (or locks) throughout its campuses to remedy this issue, so that doors can be locked from the inside.
  • School districts should implement universal access boxes. A universal access box refers to a locked box that contains master keys, located near the entry points of school buildings, that can be accessed by authorized emergency first responders and school district staff.
  • School districts should ensure that emergency alert systems are well-understood by all staff. In the case of UCISD, district leadership should issue a district-wide clarification on the use of PA systems in conjunction with Raptor emergency alerts.

Pre-Incident Planning and Preparation

  • Every agency must have a clear and concise policy on responding to active attacker situations.
  • Agencies should regularly review after-action reviews (AAR) with other regional agencies to plan as a region for a coordinated and collaborative response to possible similar events.
  • Agencies should consider obtaining state- or national-level accreditation to adopt and maintain standardized policies and procedures. This process also ensures accountability and transparency that can enhance confidence and trust in law enforcement among the communities they serve.
  • Regional public safety partners should plan, train, and exercise unified command for complex incidents. This includes federal, state, and local law enforcement, fire, EMS, and emergency management as well as other governmental and non-governmental agencies that would respond to a critical incident.
  • Elected officials should establish a Multi-Agency Coordination (MAC) Group to provide policy guidance to incident personnel and support resource prioritization and allocation. Typically, these groups are made up of government agency or private sector executives and administrators whose organizations are either impacted by, or provide resources to, an incident. MAC Groups enable decision-making among senior officials and executives, and delegate command authority to the incident commander to cooperatively define the response and recovery mission and strategic direction. Additionally, MAC Groups identify operational priorities and communicate those objectives to the Emergency Operations Center and the pertinent functions of the Incident command system and the joint information center.
  • Interagency training, drills, and exercises help to build relationships at the front-line officer level and, if attended by law enforcement supervisors, can further strengthen relationships and the efficacy of a multiagency response to a mass casualty incident. Though policies may differ slightly among agencies, overarching commonalities are the same in an active attacker incident.
  • Each PIO should draft a crisis communication plan and practice it at least four times a year with smaller events. This will help identify problem areas and solutions and ensure everyone is familiar with the plan and knows their role instead of trying to figure that out during a crisis.

Get more Uvalde coverage.

*The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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