What Are Police For If They Won’t Risk Their Lives to Save Children?

Despite their military trappings and propaganda, they're seldom heroes.

The early reports of overwhelming events are often wildly inaccurate. As investigations put more pieces together, a very different picture emerges. The one that has emerged in the wake of a school shooting in Texas is of police incompetence and cowardice on a mind-boggling scale.

The Bulwark‘s Tim Miller reacts to “the Most Enraging Press Conference in American History.”

Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw revealed that there were 19 officers in the school hallway for about an hour as small children used their deceased teacher’s phone to dial 911 and beg for their lives. He described local police officials preventing border patrol and other federal law enforcement who had arrived on the scene from entering the school and helping these terrorized kids, while their keening parents begged them to act. He acknowledged the school resource officer was not on the scene.

And after admitting this staggering level of incompetence in the face of unimaginable evil—a failure so immense that it will reverberate for generations—McCraw said dismissively, “If I thought it would help, I’d apologize.”

I want to throw my computer through a wall just transcribing these words.

McCraw followed that remark by making a rather revealing point. In defense of the officers on scene he said that there was “​​a barrage—hundreds of rounds were pumped in four minutes into those classrooms.”

Hundreds of rounds. Four minutes. When you cut away all the bullshit, and excuse making, and failure this is the crux of the matter.

A WaPo report (“Tiny school police force in Uvalde took charge, then failed to go in“) shows local cops in way over their head:

The police response to the Texas school massacre was led by the chief of a six-officer police department that oversees about eight schools. The first officers on the scene were from the Uvalde city police force, which has a part-time SWAT team and about 40 officers on the payroll.

Policing experts said it makes sense that the school police chief was in charge, given that it was his campus and he knows the safety protocols.

But authorities made clear Friday that many other things went wrong as those small police departments were joined by state, local and federal law enforcement agencies in the town of 16,000. Officers waited nearly an hour inside Robb Elementary School before a group stormed into the classroom and confronted 18-year-old Salvador Rolando Ramos. At that point, police say, officers with Customs and Border Protection shot and killed the gunman, who had slain 19 children and two teachers and wounded 17 others.

State officials have offered contradictory and partial accounts of the slow response, which included police forcing parents away from the school and subduing them as they pleaded with the officers to go in.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and others initially said officers had responded quickly and saved lives. Officials now say the school-system police chief erred by deciding the gunman had shifted from an active shooter to a “barricaded subject,” and making no effort to break down the door and get inside.

An off-duty Border Patrol tactical agent was the first to arrive outside the classroom and “basically said let’s get this done,” according to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection official who spoke on condition of anonymity to share preliminary details of the investigation. “They have not told me they were frustrated,” the official said of other border patrol agents who converged. “But they told me it was hard to discern who was in charge.”

Pedro “Pete” Arredondo, chief of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Police Department, who was the incident commander, did not respond to requests for comment on Friday. A spokeswoman for the Uvalde Police Department referred inquiries to the Texas Department of Public Safety, and requests to the local district attorney’s office went unanswered.

“We needed the help ASAP for our kids, and it wasn’t there,” Amanda Flores, who said she knew all 21 victims, said at a memorial on Main Street on Friday. “I saw those parents running, wanting to go get their children and the police tackling the parents, and that should have never happened.”

Since the Columbine school massacre in 1999, many police departments have trained officers to go after an attacker as soon as possible, to minimize the number of teachers and children shot. Before then, guidance often emphasized waiting for specially trained tactical officers with specialized equipment.

In March, the school district police hosted active shooter training at Uvalde High School, according to a post on the agency’s Facebook page. “Our overall goal is to train every Uvalde area law enforcement officer so that we can prepare as best as possible for any situation that may arise,” the post said.

The state-mandated course curriculum advises that, “In the event of an active school attack, school-based law enforcement officers should do the best they can to fill the gap until other first responders can arrive.” An arriving officer’s “first priority is to move in and confront the attacker,” even if that officer has to act alone, the guidance says.

Not only did that decidedly not happen—multiple officers on the scene failed to do their duty—but, in a scene we’ve all seen play out in B movies, the local yokel cops fought the feds over jurisdiction. NBC News (“Federal agents entered Uvalde school to kill gunman despite local police initially asking them to wait“):

Federal agents who went to Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday to confront a gunman who killed 19 children were told by local police to wait and not enter the school — and then decided after about half an hour to ignore that initial guidance and find the shooter, say two senior federal law enforcement officials.

According to the officials, agents from BORTAC, the Customs and Border Protection tactical unit, and ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) arrived on the scene between noon and 12:15 p.m. on Tuesday. Local law enforcement asked them to wait, and then instructed HSI agents to help pull children out of the windows.

The BORTAC team, armed with tactical gear, at first did not move toward the gunman. After approximately 30 minutes passed, however, the federal agents opted of their own volition to lead the “stack” of officers inside the school and take down the shooter. 

Steven McCraw, the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said Friday that Peter Arredondo, the chief of police for the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District, had stopped at least 19 officers from breaking into the school as the gunman opened fire for at least an hour. 

Arredondo believed that the shooter had barricaded himself and that the children were not under an active threat, said McCraw at a news conference.

“From the benefit of hindsight where I’m sitting now, of course, it was not the right decision. It was a wrong decision. Period. There was no excuse for that,” McCraw said. “There were plenty of officers to do what needed to be done, with one exception, is that the incident commander inside believed he needed more equipment and more officers to do a tactical breach at that time.”

Almost two dozen trained police officers were sitting around afraid to act against one crazy teenager with a semi-automatic rifle who was in the process of murdering schoolchildren. You’d expect more of 19 randomly-chosen citizens. Especially if they were all armed.

As a USA Today report notes, the list of what went wrong is very wrong, indeed. If the results weren’t so horrific, it would be a comedy of errors.

It’s enough to make John Stoehr wonder “What are police for?

The boy, whom the reporter did not identify, said he and a friend “heard the shooting through the door.” He added that, “I told my friend to hide under something so he won’t find us. I was hiding hard. And I was telling my friend to not talk because he is going to hear us.”

He recalled what happened after police came through the classroom door that Salvador Ramos had locked behind him. “When the cops came, the cop said: ‘Yell if you need help!’ And one of the people in my class said ‘help.’ The guy overheard and he came in and shot her.”

That’s it. That’s the detail that got me. A child desperately needing to trust a caring adult. A child shot to pieces for needing and trusting.

Because of a cop’s incompetence.

The boy’s eyewitness account is more damning in context. 

The Post reported Thursday that, with his rifle, Ramos strolled into the school “unobstructed.” Officials had said he encountered three cops. First, an in-school cop. Then, two others arriving on the scene. Officials had said the latter two officers sustained injuries.

Turns out all that was a lie. 

Police arrived “four minutes” after Ramos entered the building, officials conceded. Meanwhile, while Ramos was shooting 19 fourth-graders to pieces, they dithered outside for an hour. 

video shows some carrying semiautomatic rifles. It shows one cop with his taser drawn, at the ready. Another cop restrains what appears to be a parent in order to prevent them from entering the building. 

This is the context in which the boy’s testimony is even more damning than the incompetent cop who got a girl killed for needing to trust.

Irma Garcia and Eva Mireles were the boy’s teachers, the KENS reporter said. They were shot to pieces. They saved his life, he said.

“They were nice teachers,” he said. 

“They went in front of my classmates to help. 

“To save them.”

The rest of the essay is about how police don’t really keep us safe and how they have turned the public narrative on its head, demanding that we respect their authority and venerate them as heroes when it’s really teachers and others who serve without violence that should get that respect. It’s a bit over the top but not completely wrong, either.

Which brings us back to Miller. Perhaps surprisingly, coming from a senior writer at the site Bill Kristol started after Trumpist funders folded The Weekly Standard, he argues that the biggest outrage isn’t even the cowardice and incompetence of the cops:

In the coming days there will be a desire to obsess only over the unfathomable failures of those who were charged with keeping these kids safe. The poor teacher who left a door ajar. The MIA resource officer. The cops, excuse me—the SWAT Team—that posed on Facebook in tactical gear with weapons of war looking like they were prepared to head to the Donbas, but were apparently unequipped to take on a lone teenager who was slaughtering their town’s children.

But the main thing to take away from all of that is not that their failure can be reversed. It’s that in a nation with 130,000 schools there will always be some kind of human error when responding to an active shooter. God willing those errors won’t be as catastrophic as they were in Uvalde. But there will always be errors.

Parkland had an armed officer and the single point of entry that the “door control” crowd is now so obsessed with. Sandy Hook was breached by the killer firing through a window next to a locked security door. Santa Fe High School in Texas had put in place a school shooting plan with armed officers, before 10 were killed.

Can we develop better procedures for dealing with shooters in school? Probably. Schools have been wargaming these scenarios for years already, though. And yes, we can and should provide more funding for schools to help make them safer.

But when a child is able to access two assault rifles and hundreds of rounds of bullets—and are able to massacre a dozen innocents in the blink of an eye—then there is no level of door control or resource officer training that can reliably stop them.

There will always be a teacher or a kid who leaves a door open. There will always be a resource officer who is outmatched by the child Rambo with a military arsenal. There will always be a moment where kids are moving between classes, or to lunch, or to chapel, or to the football game, or to the bus and where all of the carefully designed safety precautions fall apart. And yes, there will always be fallible police officers scared for their own lives making split second—or in this case 3,600 seconds—calculations revealing that they are unfit for duty and should not be entrusted by their communities with all of that unused tactical gear.

So yes, absolutely, we should do anything in our power to make schools safer.

But the important takeaway from Uvalde shouldn’t be that next time we just need perfect cops, and unimpeachable protocols, and more competent “good guys with guns.” Time after time we’ve seen that this isn’t possible in the real world. The military understands that plans rarely survive first-contact with the enemy. The fetishists insisting that “guns don’t kill people, doors do,” do not.

The only way to actually protect these kids is to make it harder for their peers to get the deadly weapons that have allowed so many shooters to evade so many cops and so many safety procedures.

Texas Governor Greg Abbot, not shockingly, doesn’t think guns are the problem. NBC:

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Friday he was “livid” about being “misled” on initial reports of the immediate police response to the school massacre in Uvalde.

But Abbott, at a press conference in Uvalde, rejected any calls for increased gun control measures — such as background checks — in response to the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School, where 19 children and two teachers were slaughtered.


The governor said investigators need to “get to the very seconds of exactly what happened with 100 percent accuracy and explain it to the public and most importantly to the victims who have been devastated.”

Abbott insisted officials will get to the bottom of why responding police didn’t take more aggressive action to “eliminate” the killer.

“There will be ongoing investigations that detail exactly who knew what when, who was in charge and what strategy (was used), why that particular strategy was employed, why were other strategies not employed,” Abbott said.

“Bottom line would be, why did they not choose the strategy that would have been best to get in there to eliminate the killer and to rescue the children.”

I’ve written enough since this latest shooting about the politics of it all. The combination of the over-representation of rural interests in the Senate, the widely differing cultures of the 50 states, and a US Supreme Court packed with Republican judges pretty much all ensure not much will be done about our gun culture. And, even if all these obstacles were removed, even Democrats don’t agree on how far we should go in an ideal world.

But Miller’s larger point is surely correct: we just can’t expect Good Guys With Guns to save us. Even though their chiefs wear the insignia of a four-star general on their uniforms, police aren’t soldiers. Most small-town cops just aren’t all that well trained for these situations. That’s not surprising: urban combat, active shooters, hostage situations and the like just aren’t that common. Were I to hazard a guess, the last time the Uvalde Police Department had to deal with anything even remotely like this was . . . never. Expecting them to remember their training and act like professional soldiers when a crisis hits is, at the end of the day, completely unreasonable.

At a visceral level, I despise them for their cowardice. You’d think there would have been at least one hero in their sorry lot. But, realistically, they’re mostly there to hand out tickets to generate revenue for the town.

FILED UNDER: Guns and Gun Control, Law and the Courts, Policing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. MarkedMan says:

    If there is any hope for changing minds after this latest atrocity it’s because the citizens and town of Uvalde did ever thing right according to the gun nuts. Armed guards at the school. Large police force relative to the size of the town with a SWAT team that specifically trained in that school to respond to an active shooter. They did what the NRA and their state leaders promised would keep their kids safe. And it was shown to be a farce.

  2. SC_Birdflyte says:

    American policing is, on the whole, drastically in need of reform. Apparently the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd didn’t make this point with enough force. Will the Uvalde massacre change any minds? Among the assumptions that need to be trashed are that an LEO who is in fear for his life gets a free pass to act or not act, as he sees fit.

  3. Tony W says:
  4. CSK says:

    @Tony W:
    Trump would be the first person to push over small children, the elderly, and disabled people in his rush to lumber to safety.

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    You’d think there would have been at least one hero in their sorry lot. But, realistically, they’re mostly there to hand out tickets to generate revenue for the town.

    Police officers are under no legal obligation to protect you, your family, or your property. That’s a misconception. They might; they might not. When they do it’s an act of heroism.

  6. Flat Earth Luddite says:

    The reliving of the event, replaying everything that went wrong, for years, is both a form of PTSD and a very special, personal hell. If I were a better person, I’d hope the officers who led this debacle avoid that hell, and somehow heal. But I’m not, and I don’t.

  7. Jen says:

    Police officers are under no legal obligation to protect you, your family, or your property.

    I’d guess that upwards of 90% of regular OTB commenters know this. The general public, maybe not so much.

    It’s not something they put on the recruitment brochures, is it? Police departments lean pretty hard into that narrative when they are looking for funding, though. Not much truth in advertising there.

    Americans are caught up in a web of myths and idolization.

  8. Grommit Gunn says:

    There’s are reasons why no one’s ever written songs called “F@#k the Fire Department,” or “F@#k the Paramedics.”

  9. Michael Reynolds says:

    Nothing in this has surprised me. The ‘good guy with a gun’ trope was always bullshit. Just like ‘arming teachers’ is bullshit. Guns don’t make people brave, they just make them killers. I’ve made that point here many times in the past.

    We get excuse after excuse after excuse for our country’s uniquely sick obsession with guns. It’s no different than the rationalizations of a drug addict. The only reason a person buys an assault rifle is in contemplation of murder. Hero fantasies are almost always disguised murder fantasies. People own guns for power, power over their spouse, power over their neighbors, power over anyone they consider alien, and in a doomed Faustian bargain meant to mitigate their own felt weakness, and fear of their own cowardice.

    When I was 24 I bought a .45 automatic because I had a reasonable fear of being harmed by a guy who’d already kicked in my door one night. But I very quickly realized the gun was a danger to my family and friends, a danger to myself, and a mind worm that slowly, inexorably ate away at my courage and made a coward of me. I was hardly some pillar of wisdom, rather the contrary (I won’t repeat that whole story) but I felt the malignant hold the gun had on me. I traded it for a 35 mm camera, and have not owned a gun since.

    Not when I was on the run, not when I was living in squalid shitholes in dodgy parts of town, not when I was working late nights, not after a stick-up artist shoved a gun in my face, not even after my wife was attacked by an asshole with a gun. The same instinct that kept me away from addictive drugs, warned me off guns. Guns not only don’t make you brave, they make you weak. I have more than my share of vices but I’ve never been a fucking coward.

  10. OzarkHillbilly says:

    What are the police for? The same thing they have always been for: To keep those people in line.

    As far as the police not trying to rescue school children from an asshole armed with military grade weapons, why is anyone really surprised? What did you think *Blue Lives Matter* meant?

    ** when they said Blue Lives Matter, the “More” was silent.

  11. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    Police officers are under no legal obligation to protect you, your family, or your property.

    Very true and something that was discussed extensively here over the last few days, so thanks for beaming in.

    Of course that raises the question as to why someone would choose to be a police officer if they are unwilling to put themselves at risk for members of their community and in particular, why would they join the SWAT team?

  12. steve says:

    Too many people have defended the police when they shoot unarmed people. The police had to defend themselves just in case they claim. Since this largely happens with poor people and minorities everyone else doesnt care. Really, the police probably arent going to shoot middle class soccer Mom or suburban hockey Dad. But when that same prioritizing of personal safety carries over to not even trying to protect school kids those same people are acting all surprised.

    Anyway, I expect a week, at best, of actual caring about this and then full scale defense of gun access for everyone by leadership in Texas.

    Notice how the teachers put themselves in harm’s way for the kids? Think this will lead conservatives in Texas and elsewhere to stop blasting teachers and appreciate what they do? Maybe talk about hero teachers? Nah, wont happen. They probably deserved to die since they might have used the letters CRT in a sentence once.


  13. Jax says:

    I read somewhere last night they were requesting assistance from surrounding law enforcement….to protect the cops and other officials in Uvalde.

    I can only imagine how high emotions are running right now in that town. I was mad all night long.

  14. Scott F. says:

    You’d think there would have been at least one hero in their sorry lot.

    This is particularly horrible in light of the actions of Irma Garcia and Eva Mireles. These two unarmed women stood between the shooter and their kids in order to save some of them. May their ghosts haunt those pathetic police officers to the end of their sorry lives.

  15. Pylon says:

    @Sleeping Dog: Why join SWAT? Cosplay, I suspect.

  16. CSK says:

    Oh, Christ. Trump did a little dance on stage when he finished mispronouncing the names of the Uvalde victims. If you have the stomach, you can view it at the end of this piece.


    As the article notes, at least “Macho Man” wasn’t playing.

  17. Tony W says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: That’s not completely fair.

    The police are also useful for demonstrating how government is useless to those who would attempt to make it small enough to drown in a bathtub.

  18. CSK says:

    Gee, and here I though the police motto was “to protect and serve.”

    Silly me.

  19. Jen says:


    That motto was originally the slogan of the LAPD. If I am remembering correctly, it was a cop’s teenage daughter who came up with it.

  20. gVOR08 says:

    A fatal shooting in Ferguson MO notoriously exposed small town for-profit policing some years ago. A lot of people protested. In my youth the Dirty Fucking Hippies were right about Vietnam, The, largely unreported, hundreds of thousands who protested Iraq II were right. The pussy hat moms who marched were right about Trump. Occupy was right about the economy. And the much maligned Defund the Police protesters were right. Maybe, just maybe, we should occasionally pay attention to what the DFHs are telling us.

    Professionalize the Police.

    We have an opening here to reform policing. But, as with guns, nothing will happen.

  21. CSK says:

    True. (Although I’ve read that an officer came up with it.) And then the slogan was very quickly adopted by other departments.

    But didn’t a federal judge rule that the cops have no duty to protect anyone who isn’t in their custody?

  22. Chip Daniels says:

    I’ve read accounts of life in authoritarian countries like Latin America or Eastern Europe and one common thread is that the police are simultaneously comically inept and terrifyingly effective.

    Inept in that they can’t catch a simple pickpocket, but effective in that they can ferret out a dissident or protester.
    Because the purpose of policing is to keep a tight grip on the population’s unrest rather than crime.
    The bribes, the corruption, the brutality met with arrogant impunity are all flexes, displays of unconstrained power, part of the overarching message to the people that resistance is futile and hopeless.

    I see more and more of that here in America. The police and government are both able to act with lawless impunity, whether it is the former guy’s children selling access or defying Congressional subpoenas, or police murdering people and walking away free.

  23. Mimai says:

    One thing I’ve been grappling with is how I would feel had the local police and SWAT behaved differently, ie, in accord with “best practices” and their supposed training.

    If they had followed these practices — regardless of outcome — would I be updating my long-standing, strong aversion to the militarization of police?

    If by following these practices, they had saved lives, would I be updating even more?

    Thought exercise: If SWAT (stand-in for broader police militarization) actualizes the life-saving valor that their advocates promise, would I…

    …still be averse to them and what they represent?
    …grudgingly acknowledge the need for them?
    …join their advocates?
    …avoid the consideration entirely, change the subject when it comes up, etc?

    Disclosure: I live in a large metro and the team lead of our SWAT is my good friend’s brother. In many ways, he embodies the “warrior” mentality that is so problematic in current policing. In many other ways, he defies that mentality. To quote him: “While lots of people think ACAB, in reality, most cops are lazy and craven.” To which I replied: “Yep, cops are human.”

  24. Matt Bernius says:


    Too many people have defended the police when they shoot unarmed people. The police had to defend themselves just in case they claim.

    Ironically they are typically excused for the very reason that they also didn’t breech: fear for their safety.

    The reason the police are allowed to proactively shoot people is that they believe they have a weapon (note the word believe here). And the reason that the police were within their mandate *not* to go into the room is because they knew the individual had a weapon.

    It’s much easier to “forgive” them in the first case because the people they are shooting are largely viewed as criminals… even when they legally own the gun and appear to be acting in self defense (as in the case of Amir Loche’s death in a no-knock raid).

    As to why we extend that forgiveness and concern, I honestly think it comes down to three things:
    1. The average middle-class or higher American hasn’t had any proactive negative contact with the police (than say a speeding ticket). And if they have, they explain it away as a “bad apple” because…
    2. We are acculturated into pro-police media almost from birth.
    3. Ultimately people remain afraid of the “other” and they want the police there to protect them from their fellow residents.

    James wrote:

    But, realistically, they’re mostly there to hand out tickets to generate revenue for the town.

    Exactly this. As I noted a few days ago, at a projected $213K+ they were the fourth-largest revenue generator for Uvalde and they came close to edging out #3–the municipal golf course. It’s also important to note that the majority of those fines and fees are being issued to the poorest people in town (many of whom were the very people whose children were under threat). For as much as police defenders want to focus the Furgeson riots on Michael Brown (again the convient criminal), the reality was that police force had been essentially wringing every penny possible out of the black community in Furgeson through for profit policing.

    I’ll also note that some of the revenue Uvalde’s police also brought in was through offering things like training classes for law enforcement and other security firms. Including doing a “How to handle an active school shooter class” earlier THIS YEAR.

    @Sleeping Dog:

    Of course that raises the question as to why someone would choose to be a police officer if they are unwilling to put themselves at risk for members of their community and in particular, why would they join the SWAT team?

    First and foremost, prestige. Accurate or not, SWAT are treated like police special forces. They also get access to military grade equipment (something that Obama had cut back on then Trump reinstated. Biden just blocked it again. I expect the next Republican president will overturn that).

    Secondarily to be able to do “cool things” like conduct no-knock, early morning drug raids. Which is the most common things that SWAT teams do in most jurisdictions. Again that morning SWAT team members were casing houses for potential future raids. BTW, why are the raids done early morning and no-knock–to maximize safety for the officers. As noted a few days ago, just about everyone shot in a no-knock raid was killed by a SWAT team member–including both the unarmed Breonna Taylor and the legal gun owner Amir Loche).

  25. Slugger says:

    Will person X lay down his life to save person Y, even several persons Y? Is there a moral, ethical, or legal duty for self sacrifice? I don’t think so, and the reason we talk about this is to avoid talking about genuine steps to improve the situation. Heroism is rare and extra-ordinary which is why we honor it, but it can not be a basis for public policy. Yes, the Imperial Japanese Forces asked people to become kamikazes, but such a policy won’t work with a civilian work force as the cops are. Australia serves as a model for how to handle the situation. The Constitution allowed a militia because the 1790 USA did not have a standing army. Guns have been controlled for many years; Wyatt Earp did not allow guns in Tombstone. Our current gun laws are the result of expansion for political purposes and not a fundamental Constitutional issue. Heroism to prevent mass shootings is a fantasy; current appeals to the Constitution to justify our lack of gun control is a lie.

  26. gVOR08 says:

    Ted Cruz is right.

    It’s far easier to slander one’s political adversaries and to demand that responsible citizens forfeit their constitutional rights than it is to examine the cultural sickness, giving birth to unspeakable acts of evil.

    It really is a “cultural sickness” that drives these “unspeakable acts of evil”. The sickness of believing everyone has a right, almost an obligation, to own military style weaponry. A sickness driven by the gun industry, the NRA, GOP pols, and Ted Cruz.

  27. Matt Bernius says:


    Professionalize the Police

    I’m not sure what this means as police are already professionalized–heavily. They have their own unique schools (the academy) and typically require at least an associate’s if not a bachelor’s degree. They have their own certification procedures. And they have to regularly take classes and recertify to maintain their status.

    Professionalization isn’t the issue here.

    We have an opening here to reform policing.

    The problem with this is that there are 4000+ 18,000+ different independent certified policing/arresting agencies within the US. So this is a system that fundamentally resists reform. Additionally the majority of them are overseen (mainly through legislation) at the State level. So reform means changing laws in 50 states, plus the Federal Level. Then it means creating oversight bodies to ensure those reforms are actually followed–if memory serves the choke hold that killed Eric Garrner was already banned by the NYPD, as were many of the ways that weapons were deployed against protesters in the summer of 2020.

    Then, we have to get to the control that the unions have in these situations. In full disclosure I’m a union member myself, so I don’t want to necessarily say “unions are the problem” but the level of power police unions have extends far, far, far beyond what most public and private sector unions are able to achieve (especially around the topic of forced arbitration).

    There is a reason that reform activists have focused on defunding or rather shifting funding from police rather than reform through proceedure.

  28. @Dave Schuler:

    Police officers are under no legal obligation to protect you, your family, or your property. That’s a misconception.

    Granting the legal reality, I would note that the misconception is one that the police themselves propagate. “To serve and protect” is essentially an untruth in the main. Beyond that, the propaganda surrounding policing tells us that they are essentially warriors who will, in fact, protect us. But, to echo a point James made, they are mostly there to generate revenue.

    I knew a guy who was a volunteer with a local small-town police force. He carried a gun on his person at all times because he fancied himself a possible hero. I remember him being very excited about the prospect of doing SWAT training. But, TBH, I somehow doubt when push came to shove that he was going to really be able to pull off the hero routine.

    Quite frankly I was more concerned of an accidental discharge of his weapon the one time I went to the movies with him than I was about being shot by a rando.

  29. Jen says:

    @CSK: It was indeed a cop’s daughter. I heard the story on (I think) a This American Life episode. Here are the details.

  30. @Chip Daniels: I keep thinking about authoritarianism in Latin America a lot these days, especially as it pertains to how some very educated elite types supported it because they feared democracy would give others too much power.

  31. @Matt Bernius:

    2. We are acculturated into pro-police media almost from birth.

    Indeed. When you think about it, it is pretty astounding. Moreover, the culture tells us that even when law enforcement goes rogue and breaks the rules, they are ultimately doing so in the service of the greater good.

    And they almost always catch the bad guys (and usually only arrest bad guys).

  32. Matt Bernius says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I knew a guy who was a volunteer with a local small-town police force. He carried a gun on his person at all times because he fancied himself a possible hero. I remember him being very excited about the prospect of doing SWAT training

    This is so very much a thing. I’m involved in martial arts, including some more combatives grounded ones. I know a lot of folks, especially non-cops, who love LARPing (or should it be LERPing?).

  33. @Matt Bernius:

    to be able to do “cool things”

    BTW: that is exactly how my former neighbor would talk about these things.

  34. Matt Bernius says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Indeed. When you think about it, it is pretty astounding. Moreover, the culture tells us that even when law enforcement goes rogue and breaks the rules, they are ultimately doing so in the service of the greater good.

    This especially accelerated during the 1970’s (see e.g. Dirty Harry) in part due to the very real rise in crime.

    Also note that when cops are “bad” they are always the exception and are ultimately brought down by “good” cops (or get their comeuppance in one way or another). BTW, that was in part due to things like the MPAA codes and the Comics Code which were both self censorship tools that industries adopted to prevent government regulation. In both cases no one could ever be seen to profit from crime and police had to be shown in a positive light.

  35. @Matt Bernius: He was definitely LARPing as a cop.

  36. CSK says:

    Ah, thank you!

  37. gVOR08 says:

    Becoming a police officer in Germany requires two and a half to four years basic training. Amongst other things, training includes de-escalation and disarming. IIRC I’ve read elsewhere that part of that training is that they are expected to risk their lives to protect others. A situation that seldom arises because the country isn’t awash with guns. Fatal shootings by police in civilized countries run from single to double digits per year. A thousand a year here. I’ve read that German cops fire maybe 50 rounds in anger per year, with like 40 victims. Our cops seem to empty their magazines without hitting anything.

    Last year in the U.S. reportedly 458 officers died. 62 were shot, another handful were beaten, stabbed, drowned or other. 58 were killed in traffic. A number had heart attacks and other fatal health issues. And 338 were COVID related. No mention of how many of those were unvaxxed. One would think the cops would scream for gun control. But gunshot isn’t really that big a risk for them, and they’re too ideological to even protect themselves against COVID.

  38. gVOR08 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I knew a guy who was a volunteer with a local small-town police force.

    I lived in the Dallas area for a couple years forty years ago. A few of the guys I worked with were volunteer civilian auxiliaries with the Dallas cops. One guy always had a snub nose .38 in his glove box and put a Beretta in has sock when he went into a 7-11. Another one carried a .357 magnum when he was working with the cops. He worked as a radio dispatcher. I always had a mental picture of, “Goddam static. Blam, blam, blam.” The company let it be known that there’d be a layoff in a few months and anyone not working voluntary unpaid overtime would head the list. He decided he wanted to be a cop anyway, so he’d decline the OT, get his severance pay, and had it set up with his cop buddies to go to the police academy. He got laid off on schedule and flunked the cop physical.

  39. Matt Bernius says:


    Becoming a police officer in Germany requires two and a half to four years basic training. Amongst other things, training includes de-escalation and disarming.

    Agreed that would be a better option than current US training. And thank you for posting that article, I had forgotten about it. Here it is:

    Again the issue with training is that it’s determined at the State level, not the federal one. So again, this is reforming all 50 states to fundamentally change their approach to training. Which is also pointed out in the same article itself:

    That’s because, unlike many other similar countries, the American law-enforcement system is largely decentralized. The majority of the approximately 18,000 law-enforcement agencies across the U.S. are run at the city or county level, employing anywhere from one to 30,000 officers. The hyperlocalized nature of the system means that the standards and practices these agencies employ can vary widely. Unlike England and Wales, whose 43 police agencies are subject to the scrutiny of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, an independent body, American policing has no federal oversight authority.

    Which is more or less what I wrote above, but I vastly underestimated the number of law-enforcement agencies in the US (mainly because I was thinking of counties at the time and prosecutor offices).

    Also, I’m honestly not sure that our Consitution would allow this level of federal oversight of State police departments–or rather I’m highly skeptical that any law would pass Judicial Review under the current Supreme Court (even if it was to somehow get through Congress).

    Again, there is a reason why many criminal legal reform advocates see no real future in reforming the police and focus on shifting funding.

  40. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    Any attempt to implement German style training or UK type oversight would need to happen at the state level. The Feds could incentivize the states by providing the funding to implement the changes. The closet the US can get to federal oversight is the current efforts using the civil rights act. Of course that is subject to the whim of whoever is prez.

  41. gVOR08 says:

    @Matt Bernius: I don’t really disagree with you about any of this, except that WIKI says there are 18,000 police agencies, not 4,000+. The six man school district police department in Uvalde may be professional on paper, but hardly in practice. Were we to actually attempt reform, consolidating police departments is the first thing that would have to happen. Even a large department like, say, Minneapolis, which is actually only 800 officers, a small business per the Census Bureau, should be consolidated into a metro area or county operation. And yes, despite this crisis, nothing is going to happen.

    I’ve been reading Karl Popper’s The Open Society. I assumed he meant democracy, and that we are one. But in Popper’s usage it goes beyond democracy to democratically making ongoing, incremental improvements in institutions. Something we have become incapable of doing. Partly because we bind ourselves to a constitution that was really a fair first draft of a democratic constitution, and partly sclerosis. We democratically change the players, almost nothing else.

  42. mattbernius says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    The Feds could incentivize the states by providing the funding to implement the changes.

    Yup, and many local departments already don’t take funding from the Feds or their own State governments to avoid oversight on things like reporting of statistics.

    I have talked with LEO professionals from other countries and none can believe how our system has evolved.

  43. Just nutha ignint cracker says:


    ** when they said Blue Lives Matter, the “More” was silent.

    It was? That’s strange. I remember hearing the “More” just fine. (Maybe my hearing aid is better than I realize.)


    I find it disconcerting that an exurban/ruralish/whatever small school district has a “Chief of Police.”

    I find it even more disconcerting that the district’s “police force” has fewer officers than it has buildings that house school children.

    I find it interesting that a town of ~15000 people has 8 school buildings, but I assume that factor has to do with what a “consolidated” school district is. (Also that school district sizes have shrunk considerably in the area where I live where a 45,000 population exurban/ruralish/whatever district has only 12 buildings.)

    Mostly, I find it disconcerting that said “Chief of Police,” his “force,” a clown car “SWAT” team from the town itself, and various parties who offered their aid and expertise to the crisis stood around with their thumbs up there [expletive–anatomical, deleted] for the better part of an hour while the usual crop of “conservative thinkers/scholars/experts/legislators/whatever” advise us that while the outcome was sad, it was all we should expect.

    Lots to be disconcerted about here. More to be disconcerted about to come. A lot more.

  44. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Matt Bernius: There is a reason that reform activists have focused on defunding or rather shifting funding from police rather than reform through proceedure.

    We’ve been “reforming” the police for decades. Hasn’t worked yet.

  45. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Sleeping Dog: “Of course that raises the question as to why someone would choose to be a police officer if they are unwilling to put themselves at risk for members of their community and in particular, why would they join the SWAT team?”

    Really? You don’t get that you join the police force and audition for SWAT because you’re a thug who’s looking for the opportunity to shoot [expletive, deleted] under the color of authority? What’s not to understand?

  46. Sleeping Dog says:


    Of course if the states wanted to force local departments to conform to state or federal requirements, they could. For reasons, states choose not to act.

  47. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Somethings are understood and don’t need to be mentioned.

  48. Gustopher says:

    The early reports of overwhelming events are often wildly inaccurate. As investigations put more pieces together, a very different picture emerges

    I think you are giving too much benefit of the doubt to the police here. Everything seems different now because their story completely fell apart… because they were lying.

    Things often change as more information comes in, but we have the police claiming that the shooter was confronted by a brave officer outside the building, and then we learn there was no one there, brave or not.

    They were just making shit up.

  49. steve says:

    “While lots of people think ACAB, in reality, most cops are lazy and craven.””

    Worked in emergency mental health centers in Philly when I first got out of the military. Off duty cops were our security at one place. They ran a little gambling ring. When I had trouble with my car they offered to have it stolen so I could collect insurance. I dont think most are craven or crooked but a goodly number of them are becasue as was pointed ut above they are people too.


  50. Kurtz says:


    But when that same prioritizing of personal safety carries over to not even trying to protect school kids those same people are acting all surprised.

    I seem to remember reading that they protected their own kids then stood back.

    Anyone else see that?

  51. CSK says:

    Yes. They got their own kids out. Then…

  52. Jax says:

    @CSK: Ohhhh, pick me, pick me! They got their own kids out, then handcuffed and tased the hysterical parents whose kids were still in there!

    This game sucks. 😛

  53. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Sleeping Dog: My mistake. Didn’t recognize it as a rhetorical question. I’m sorry.

  54. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    The internet is a horrible place for conveying irony, sarcasm and asking rhetorical questions. No problem.

  55. Ken_L says:

    The dumbest (or most cynical) assumption in the Trump Republican position is that tens of thousands of courageous, capable warrior vets and police officers are champing at the bit to apply for jobs as glorified hall monitors.

    The reality will always be that school security is a boring, dead-end job which will attract mainly misfits, burnt-out cops approaching retirement, and people incapable of getting employment in more demanding security/law enforcement agencies. People, in other words, who will not excel at dealing with a sudden life-threatening emergency.