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We’re peeling back the curtain on the police subculture that, in many places, they make it up as they go.
Philip Stinson, professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State University
It’s not unusual for police to inaccurately reflect the events they’re involved in, said Philip Stinson, a professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State University who researches police crime and misconduct. And those misstatements aren’t entirely attributable to the fog of a chaotic situation.
“Historically, the police have owned the narrative” of their interventions, he said. “It’s not uncommon for police officers to write up incident reports to … justify the actions that they took, and not necessarily reflect what actually happened.”
“We’re peeling back the curtain on the police subculture that in many places, they make it up as they go. They control the narrative, and it’s always written so things happen in a textbook fashion. And every cop did everything right,” he said.
“When we find out later on that they don’t always do what they were trained to do, they act in ways inconsistent with their training and make the shit up as they go,” he said. They lie, Stinson added, for a simple reason: “They want to cover their own ass in the name of justice.”
Many cops face no explicit requirement to tell the truth in public statements, Stinson said. Police in several major Texas cities are directed to tell the public the truth, according to official manuals reviewed by Grid. In Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth, police are explicitly instructed to be honest and accurate when sharing information with the news media. Grid was unable to immediately obtain manuals for Uvalde law enforcement.
The rise of video recording has helped challenge the supremacy of police narratives but hasn’t dethroned police statements as definitive accounts of law enforcement encounters. The videotaped beating of Rodney King by police in 1991 could have marked a turning point, Stinson said, one that revealed to the public that “lying is a normal part of policing.”
But that didn’t happen, he said. The results are disastrous, for both police and the public: When evidence emerges that contradicts law enforcement’s narrative, it harms trust in police and can make it more difficult for cops to solve crimes.
“It’s an erosion of police legitimacy,” he said. “And if police lack legitimacy, people are no longer willing to cooperate with the police, to trust the police to do what the police told them, and it becomes much more difficult for police officers to do their jobs.”
Below is a list of the dozen inaccurate statements by police regarding the Uvalde shooting that were later contradicted by evidence:
- The shooter was wearing body armor.
- What they said: “He had a rifle and body armor on,” Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) spokesman Sgt. Erick Estrada said of the Uvalde shooter on May 24.
- In fact: The shooter “was wearing a tactical vest, though not body armor, the Associated Press reported on June 3, citing “state senators who said they were briefed on the shooting.”
- The shooter entered the school at 11:40 a.m.
- What they said: At the May 26 news conference, Texas DPS Regional Director for South Texas Victor Escalon said the shooter entered Robb Elementary School at 11:40 a.m., the Houston Chronicle reported.
- In fact: “11:33 [a.m.] is when the suspect entered the school,” Texas DPS Director Steven McCraw said on May 27.
- The shooter entered through a door that had been propped open.
- What they said: “The exterior door … where we knew the shooter entered … was propped open by a teacher,” McCraw said on May 27. “That was an access point that the subject used.”
- In fact: “We did verify she closed the door,” Texas DPS spokesman Travis Considine said on May 31, correcting the department’s previous statements about the teacher. “The door did not lock. We know that much, and now investigators are looking into why it did not lock.” The teacher had propped the door open, Considine said, but removed the rock used to prop it open and closed the door after she heard someone yell “He has a gun!” and saw the shooter jump a fence outside the school.
- A school resource officer “engaged” the shooter on his way into the school.
- What they said: “As the shooter was approaching, there was a school district resource officer that approached him, engaged him,” McCraw said on May 25. “Gunfire was not engaged, but the subject was able to make it into the school.”
- In fact: “There was a discussion early on that … a resource officer, had confronted the subject,” McCraw said on May 27. “That did not happen.”
- Officers at the scene did not know children were still at risk.
- What they said: “The on-scene commander at the time believed that it had transitioned from an active shooter to a barricaded subject,” McCraw said on May 27, “and there were no more children at risk.”
- In fact: “The chief, Pete Arredondo, and others at the scene became aware that not everyone inside the classrooms was already dead,” the New York Times reported on June 9, based on investigative material. Video obtained by ABC News appears to show a 911 dispatcher relaying to police: “Child is advising he is in the room, full of victims.”
- Police engaged “immediately” with the shooter.
- What they said: “Bottom line, law enforcement was there, they did engage immediately,” McCraw said on May 25. The claim was echoed by DPS spokesman Lt. Chris Olivarez, who repeatedly said in an interview with CNN that officers “reacted in a moment’s notice,” “were able to respond at a moment’s notice” and were “just without a moment’s notice going into the classroom.”
- In fact: “One hour, 14 minutes and 8 seconds,” McCraw testified at a June 21 Texas State Senate hearing. “That’s how long children waited, and the teachers waited, in room 111 to be rescued.”
- Officers expeditiously evacuated the school building.
- What they said: While the first officers on scene waited for more to arrive, “their primary focus was to preserve any further loss of life. So they started breaking windows around the school, and trying to rescue, evacuate children and teachers while that was going on,” Olivarez said on May 25.
- In fact: Parents and students who were on the scene expressed frustration with long delays in the effort to evacuate students. Parents reportedly resorted to trying to break windows themselves. Police handcuffed Angeli Gómez, the mother of two students, when she tried to enter the school to evacuate her sons.
- Police lacked manpower to make initial entry into the classroom.
- What they said: “The initial group of officers that were on scene, at that point they were at a point of disadvantage because the shooter was able to barricade himself inside that classroom,” Olivarez said on CNN on May 25. “There was not sufficient manpower at that time. And their primary focus was to preserve any further loss of life. So they started breaking windows around the school and trying to rescue, evacuate children and teachers while that was going on.”
- In fact: Surveillance footage and subsequent investigations have shown there was sufficient police manpower on scene, local news outlet KVUE reported.
- Police lacked the equipment they needed to enter the classroom.
- What they said: “They don’t make entry initially because of the gunfire they’re receiving,” Escalon said on May 26. “But we have officers calling for additional resources — everybody that’s in the area, tactical teams. We need equipment — we need specialty equipment. We need body armor; we need precision riflemen; negotiators.”
- In fact: “Officers, in effect, had more than enough firepower, equipment and motivation to breach the classrooms,” the Texas Tribune reported on June 20 based on a review of surveillance footage and reporting by local news outlets KVUE and the Austin American-Statesman.
- Police were delayed from entering classrooms by a wait for a classroom key.
- What they said: The Uvalde schools police chief, Arredondo, told the Texas Tribune that officers tried to open the doors to the classrooms in which the shooting occurred but needed to wait for a key to arrive. “Arredondo checked to see if the door on the right, room 111, would open. Another officer tried room 112. Both doors were locked,” the June 9 Tribune article reports, based on an interview with Arredondo and statements provided through his lawyer.
- In fact: “Surveillance footage shows that police never tried to open a door to two classrooms at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde in the 77 minutes between the time a gunman entered the rooms and massacred 21 people and officers finally stormed in and killed him,” the San Antonio Express-News reported on June 18, citing “a law enforcement source close to the investigation.”
- The shooter was taken into custody.
- What they said: In a Facebook post, on March 24, the day of the shooting, the Uvalde Police Department said: “Update @ 1:06 Shooter is in Police Custody”
- In fact: The shooter was shot and killed by officers at approximately 12:50 p.m., according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.
- “One Border Patrol agent” shot and killed the gunman.
- What they said: “One Border Patrol agent who was working nearby when the shooting began rushed into the school without waiting for backup and shot and killed the gunman, who was behind a barricade,” the Associated Press initially reported on the day of the shooting, citing “a law enforcement official speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about it.”
- In fact: U.S. Border Patrol agent Jacob Albarado was off-duty, did not have his equipment with him and did not enter the school or kill the gunman, he said in a May 31 interview with the “Today” show, but helped evacuate children from the outside.
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