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Texas funded police training for active shooters, but it failed in Uvalde

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

We start this hour with growing frustration over the way police responded 12 days ago during the mass shooting at a school in Uvalde, Texas. They held back outside of a classroom even as children on the inside called 911, pleading for help. As NPR's Martin Kaste reports, this happened despite a state law meant to improve school police response to active shooters.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: This kind of school security breakdown was not supposed to happen. At least, the Texas legislature took steps to avoid it. Jon Rosenthal is a state representative from the Houston area.

JON ROSENTHAL: They received money from us. They received appropriation from the state - specifically for training, for equipment, for updating the school's security.

KASTE: And Rosenthal added legislation requiring school police to take standardized active shooter training, which emphasizes confronting the shooter as quickly as possible. Uvalde school district police took that course in March.

ROSENTHAL: Oh, dear Lord. So they literally just did this, and it clearly was not effective training.

KASTE: Though he wonders whether the problem was the training or the people taking it. With investigations ongoing, the department isn't sharing some key details with the public. One question is gear - did Uvalde school police have door breaching tools so they wouldn't have to wait for a key? Solomon Cook is president of the Texas School District Police Chiefs' Association.

SOLOMON COOK: There is no law or mandate on what tools or what devices that they might have.

KASTE: Cook says his school police department in Humble, Texas, has such tools, though he prefers not to disclose where they're kept.

COOK: I'll just say this - it's available for the officer, OK?

KASTE: Another question - did the chief of Uvalde school police, Pete Arredondo, know about the 911 calls from the inside? The New York Times reports that he didn't have his radio with him, though there's no indication that other officers didn't have theirs. It's also been asserted that the 911 information was broadcast only to Uvalde city police. But again, it's not clear why that would matter, since school police departments in Texas typically can hear city police radio channels. Uvalde officials have not responded to questions about how radio dispatch works here. But as of right now, there still isn't a complete explanation for why Chief Arredondo would be in the dark about those 911 calls.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Good evening.

KASTE: On Friday evening, the Uvalde School Board held its first meeting since the shootings. The trustees opened with a prayer, then took turns naming the victims.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Jayce Luevanos and Tess Mata.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Ellie Garcia, Uziyah Garcia...

KASTE: The board did not discuss the performance of the district's police department, nor the actions of Chief Arredondo, who stayed silent and mostly out of sight since the shooting. The board went into closed session, then came out and read the names of the victims one more time before adjourning, which angered parent Jo Mills.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JO MILLS: All he keeps talking about is bringing up these kids' names.

KASTE: With the meeting over, Jo Mills had to vent her frustrations in the direction of the TV cameras.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MILLS: I got told on Thursday that we're going to speak about our safety and guidelines. Nothing happened. Nobody showed up. Nobody spoke about nothing.

KASTE: Another mother there, who had just come from a funeral, said she expects more parents will be at the next board meeting to ask why all the security preparations by the district and the state weren't enough. Martin Kaste, NPR News, Uvalde, Texas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy. He has been focused on police and use of force since before the 2014 protests in Ferguson, and that coverage led to the creation of NPR's Criminal Justice Collaborative.