It Happened Again—This Time at Santa Fe High School in Texas

The police response to recent events is under a microscope.

high school door

By now, most people are familiar with events surrounding the tragic shooting at Santa Fe High School last Friday. Dimitrios Pagourtzis came to school with a .38 revolver and systematically shot students he didn’t like. Ten students died.

His first victim was a girl who had repeatedly spurned his aggressive advances. He purposely spared those he liked. Unlike other school shooters, Pagourtzis was not on any police radar. He had no criminal record or any documented interaction with police.

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The exact series of events at Santa Fe High School are still being sorted out. Standard response protocol for most law enforcement agencies is to immediately and aggressively confront the shooter or shooters and take them out as soon as possible. Although it could have been worse, and the suspect was taken alive, there is some question as to how “immediate” the law enforcement response was in this case.

Santa Fe High School had conducted active shooter drills, armed police officers patrolled the hallways, and students went through a scare in February after a false report of a gunman. But witnesses and police dispatch records seem to indicate that Friday’s nightmare at Santa Fe lasted up to thirty minutes. Most mass shootings last around eight minutes.

It is not known at this point exactly when police actually confronted Pagourtzis. Officials say he engaged in a drawn-out gunfight with police although he wasn’t hit. Police dispatch recordings noted “more shots fired” ten minutes after police first received reports of gunfire.

One Santa Fe school police officer is known to have quickly responded to the attack. Unfortunately, he was shot and remains in critical condition.

In general, law enforcement is being praised for its quick response at Santa Fe, but questions remain.

Law Enforcement’s response time to the Santa Fe shooting may eventually be determined to be adequate. Time will tell. But we know things were quite different regarding police response time February 14 at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. Fourteen students and three teachers died at the hand of Nikolas Cruz. Contrary to standard aggressive police response protocol, armed school resource deputy Scot Peterson reported shots being fired but then did not enter the building to confront the shooter. He remained outside while the carnage continued.

After killing 17 people, Cruz was able to walk out of the school, go to a nearby Walmart, and buy a drink. He was later captured by authorities.

It’s clear that Peterson and other responding Broward County Sheriff’s deputies did not follow accepted protocol of advancing on the shooter. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is still investigating the police response.

What went wrong at Parkland besides the failure to immediately confront the shooter?

  • A patchwork 911 system in Coral Springs and Parkland. Calls were not routed in a timely fashion to the Broward County Sheriff, the office responsible for Parkland and the high school. Some officers were actually informed of the shooting through the fire department.
  • Brevard County’s radio system was overloaded as deputies talked over one another. Confusion ensued.
  • Responding law enforcement agencies were on different frequencies making a coordinated response effort difficult, if not impossible.
  • The Broward County Sheriff’s Office had not held active shooter training for its deputies since 2016.

Regardless of these factors, Deputy Scot Peterson bore much of the blame for the failed response. He resigned.

It’s too soon to tell if any of the Parkland response issues were repeated at Santa Fe. Extensive investigation is already underway. The bad news is that school shootings continue to happen. The only good news is that police agencies will continue to learn from things that went wrong and things that went right.

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