Mises Wire

Home | Wire | Don't Let Them Claim Uvalde's Police Failure Was Just a Local Problem

Don't Let Them Claim Uvalde's Police Failure Was Just a Local Problem

  • uvalde

Tags U.S. History


One remarkable aspect of the coverage of the Uvalde shooting is how quickly the narrative has gone praising police heroics to exposing the law enforcement agents' complete, total, and shameful failure. Simultaneously, police apologists' excuses have repeatedly changed as well. 

Among these excuses has been the claim that the Uvalde police were just a small-town force and that with better funding—they always call for more funding—the police wouldn't make these "mistakes." It is also claimed that larger state and federal police personnel would never have the same problems.

Thanks to the  Texas Department of Public Safety's report released this week, we now know that a majority of law enforcement officers at the Uvalde massacre were from state and federal agencies and that the total law enforcement personnel numbered a remarkable 376. Yet, even as these "first responders" continued to amass personnel and equipment, they chose to prioritize officer safety over children's safety. 

Clearly, the excuses about an "underfunded" and undersized local police force hold no water. The presence of dozens of well-armed state troopers and federal officers did not lead to immediate action against a single untrained gunman. This was a systemwide failure of law enforcement. Yet, unfortunately, the narrative over the behavior of law enforcement at Uvalde has zeroed in on the idea that it's all entirely the fault of a small number of local officials. 

Nearly Four Hundred Law Enforcement Officers at Uvalde

This was no matter of a small police force being overwhelmed by events. According to the Texas Tribune, the state's report on Uvalde 

reveals for the first time that the overwhelming majority of responders were federal and state law enforcement: 149 were U.S. Border Patrol, and 91 were state police—whose responsibilities include responding to "mass attacks in public places." There were 25 Uvalde police officers and 16 sheriff's deputies. [School district police chief Pete] Arredondo's school police force accounted for five of the officers on the scene. The rest of the force was made up of neighboring county law enforcement, U.S. marshals and federal Drug Enforcement Administration officers.

In total, 376 law enforcement officers were at the scene. 

Not all of these officers were present from early on in the incident. But within minutes, armed police officers showed up and choose to not take action against the gunman. Soon, more weapons and protective gear arrived. And police still chose to do nothing. As victims bled to death in the classroom with the gunman, dozens of federal, state, and local personnel were standing around in a grim "comedy" of errors. No one took responsibility or took action for more than an hour. By far, the most enthusiastic action from police could be witnessed in how officers harassed, attacked, cuffed and generally mistreated the parents of dying children at the scene. 

So, let's dispense with the claims that the reason the police stood around in Uvalde was because this was a police force of country bumpkins who "lacked training." It took the presence of nearly three hundred state and federal officers for officers on the scene to take action—more than an hour later. This was against a single untrained gunman with a weapon no more powerful than what the police themselves possessed. 

Excuses and Lies 

Nonetheless, that any police agency is being criticized at all is a sign of just how complete and obvious the failure was. From the beginning, the story was crafted to portray all police personnel at the scene as heroes.

Early media reports on the event contain variations of all the usual stock phrases used to describe law enforcement. A May 25 New York Post article tells the story the police agencies would no doubt like to be the official version. The Post reports:

Risking their own lives, these Border Patrol Agents and other officers put themselves between the shooter and children on the scene to draw the shooter's attention away from potential victims and save lives….

An off-duty Customs and Border Protection agent from an elite tactical unit is the hero who shot and killed the Robb Elementary School gunman before he could continue his massacre, reports said Wednesday. 

The agent, a member of CBP's Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC), rushed into the school while the shooter was still active and began exchanging rounds with the gunman, who was barricaded inside a fourth-grade classroom, NBC and Fox reported. 

This was all a fabrication, unless one considers engaging the shooter after more than an hour "rushing" into the school.

Fox News commentators also pushed knee-jerk support for the police at Uvalde, with pundit Tom Homan announcing:

These men and women are America's heroes…. These men and women are working overtime, 24/7, biggest crisis ever seen. But when they were needed, they didn't hesitate to go to that school and face the gunfire.

Republican Texas governor Greg Abbott also followed the usual GOP playbook in immediately praising the "quick response" of "valiant police officials."

All of this was based solely on the propaganda efforts of police agencies and local Uvalde officials such as Uvalde mayor Don McLaughlin, who continues to praise his own administration and the local police response.

The man supposedly in charge of the Uvalde response, school district police chief Pete Arredondo, continues to make excuses and straight-up lie about the situation. Consider this version of reality coming out of Arredondo and his spokesman, as reported by the Texas Tribune:

"Not a single responding officer ever hesitated, even for a moment, to put themselves at risk to save the children," Arredondo said. "We responded to the information that we had and had to adjust to whatever we faced. Our objective was to save as many lives as we could, and the extraction of the students from the classrooms by all that were involved saved over 500 of our Uvalde students and teachers before we gained access to the shooter and eliminated the threat."

[George E.] Hyde, Arredondo's lawyer, said those criticisms don't reflect the realities police face when they're under fire and trying to save lives. Uvalde is a small working-class city of about 15,000 west of San Antonio. Its small band of school police officers doesn't have the staffing, equipment, training, or experience with mass violence that larger cities might.

"His client ran straight toward danger armed with 29 years of law enforcement experience and a Glock 22 handgun. With no body armor and no second thoughts, the chief committed to stop the shooter or die trying."

This is a fantasy. Naturally, Arredondo also claimed that any shortcomings in the response were due to loo little taxpayer money being handed over to the department. Moreover, we know that state and federal personnel did arrive, presumably with the training and experience they might gain from what Hyde claims comes from law enforcement in "larger cities." That apparently made little difference. 

In any case, no police officers are facing any sort of discipline or accountability besides a handful of local police officers. Arredondo still has his job with the school district and is on paid leave. No state or federal law enforcement officer has faced any sort of discipline or accountability at all.

In spite of the usual efforts to immediately lionize police, the failure at Uvalde was so complete that it's become impossible to deny that someone screwed up big time. Unfortunately, however, the new narrative is one in which this has nothing to do with any systematic problem but is merely a very limited and localized problem specific to some small-town people who "lacked funding" or needed "better training." This doesn't explain why ninety-one state troopers didn't manage to improve the situation. 

Governments will make every effort to sweep this problem under the rug by making it out to be something that has nothing to do with state or federal law enforcement. We shouldn't let them off the hook.


Contact Ryan McMaken

Ryan McMaken (@ryanmcmaken) is executive editor at the Mises Institute. Send him your article submissions for the Mises Wire and Power and Market, but read article guidelines first. Ryan has a bachelor's degree in economics and a master's degree in public policy and international relations from the University of Colorado. He was a housing economist for the State of Colorado. He is the author of Breaking Away: The Case of Secession, Radical Decentralization, and Smaller Polities and Commie Cowboys: The Bourgeoisie and the Nation-State in the Western Genre.

Do you want to write on this topic?
Check out our submission Guidelines
Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
Image source:
Texas Department of Public Safety