How Pete Arredondo Forced a Reckoning Over Police in Uvalde
Monday was a day of tension.
Before a special meeting of the Uvalde Consolidated Public Schools Board could even begin, a protester carrying a red “Prosecute Pete Arredondo” sign could be heard shouting from the audience. Minutes later, Brett Cross, uncle of murdered Robb fourth-grader Uziyah Garcia, stood at the podium with a question for the school board about Arredondo: “Why the hell does he still have a job with y’all?”
The round ended with a round of applause.
“Are you going to fire him?” Cross continued, directing his question to the district’s superintendent, Hal Harrell. “If he’s not fired by noon tomorrow then I want your resignation and every single one of you board members, because you all do not give a damn about our children or us.”
Michael Brown displays protest signs at a Uvalde special school board meeting to voice concerns about the July 18th shootings at Robb Elementary School.
A number of parents gathered at the podium to demand various items from board members seated on an elevated platform. But, fire Pete Arredondo – the Uvalde schools police chief who state and other law enforcement officials and researchers have said made a series of colossal mistakes the day of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School – seemed primary among them. Parents demanded the firing of Arredondo or their children wouldn’t return to Uvalde schools.
In many ways the demand confirmed what everyone in this tiny Texas town, and across America, now knows. As school district police chief and a member of the city council, Pedro “Pete” Moreno Arredondo was a community leader in Uvalde, Texas, a respected figure. Now, it’s not even clear if he remains in town. Arredondo has been absent from city council meetings for the past two months, failing to show up at the meeting. He then resigned July 1, under public pressure. He has been placed on administrative leave by the school district from his position as police chief. Arredondo wasn’t fired on Friday. But, the school board decided to hold a special session Saturday. Officials from the district say that they will decide the issue.
Uvalde, a city of overwhelmingly Latino residents with just over 15,000 inhabitants, is located in Deep South Texas. This borderlands county was the one that Trump won in 2016 and 2020. It’s a place where baseball caps and bumper stickers proclaiming that the owner “backs the blue” are not surprising. This kind of unconditional support for law enforcement is becoming more difficult to find. The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) commissioned an early July report from the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center at Texas State University (ALERRT). It stated that Uvalde’s law enforcement may have missed numerous opportunities to end the violence at Robb Elementary. The Texas House of Representatives released a second report this week that echoed the findings. Although the gunman, aged 18, pulled the trigger, causing the destruction of the entire town’s history, others believe Arredondo was responsible for the responses that day.
Arredondo didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment regarding this article. However, he did issue a written statement after he quit the Uvalde Council. In it, he admitted that he was a divisive figure.
“Uvalde has a rich history of loving and supporting thy neighbor and we must continue to do so,” he wrote. “[A]It is the best thing for the community after much thought [for me] to step down as a member of the City Council…to minimize further distractions.”
Continue reading: ‘We Won’t Let These Babies Be Forgotten.’ Close-Knit Uvalde Community Grieves After Elementary School Shooting’
For now, the police chief remains cloistered behind a veritable shield formed by fellow officers and public officials, who say they are protecting information while multiple investigations are ongoing, as well as by some of those who have known him since the longtime lawman was himself a student in Uvalde’s schools.
Arredondo is second from the right at Uvalde news conference, May 26.
Christopher Lee—The New York Times/Redux
The man they had known transformed overnight from a respected local public servant into a national pariah. The story of this man raises serious questions regarding how police train to deal with active shooters.
It appears that Arredondo is a law enforcer who worked since 1993.,They would be able to react to situations like that at Robb Elementary School. Texas legislators made a mandatory eight-hour training course for active-shooter officers in schools. (ALERRT’s course is 16 hours.) Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE), records indicate that Arredondo has been involved in 5,300 hours worth of on-thejob activities. TCOLE considered this to be continuing education and included 2,012 hours of training specifically for specific problems. That tally includes career hours and courses related to juvenile justice, community policing, and active-shooter situations, plus a course called “Managing Critical Incidents for Higher Education.” State records also show the last course Arredondo completed on Dec. 17, 2021: a mandatory eight-hour active-shooter training for school-based law officers.
Robb Elementary School was invaded by a gunman seven days after the attack.
Arredondo was born at UvaldeIt was 1972. This happened just two years following the student protest that secured Uvalde a place on Chicano’s history. At the time, the new building at Uvalde Memorial Hospital—an institution that 50 years later would treat many of those affected by the shooting—had only been open a few months. Dolph Briscoe (a white Democrat rancher) was a prominent resident of the community. He was currently running for governor. Some people in the area may still be talking about the $10,000 reward for Blue Sheep’s safe return, which was a 2 year-old mare that had been stolen from Del Rio, Texas. The 1972 state high school football championship was won by the Uvalde High School Coyotes.
After graduating from Uvalde High School as part of the class of 1990, Arredondo completed a police training academy at an area junior college then transferred to Texas A&M’s Commerce, Texas, campus. According to the Uvalde profile, Arredondo earned an undergraduate degree in organization management there. Leader-News. Arredondo did not find enough attraction to move away from Dallas, which is in the city portion of the state. Arredondo joined the Uvalde City Police Department in 1993. He would serve as a dispatcher for 911, then as an officer on patrol, and finally, as a detective according to the local paper.
Pete Arredondo’s campaign sign hangs from a Uvalde fence on May 30,
Jae C. Hong—AP
2009., Arredondo moved back to his hometown, but this time to Webb County. This border community is about two hours south of Laredo. There, Arredondo joined the sheriff’s department, and rose as high as deputy chief. He also worked briefly in that county’s jail before, in 2017, joining the police department serving Laredo’s public schools. It was while he was serving as a police captain in Laredo’s schools that Arredondo found out Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District, which had formed its own police department in 2018, was looking for a new police chief.
“I didn’t even have to think twice about applying,” Arredondo said in the April 2020 story in the Uvalde Leader-News, adding that a number of the district’s teachers had influenced his life in meaningful ways.
Continue reading: ‘We Never Thought This Would Happen Here.’ Uvalde Residents Reckon With Gun Violence in Their Quiet Town
The district’s schools, like many others across the country, were at the time closed due to the pandemic. But many students and their parents, in this part of the country where wi-fi service can be weak, were coming to campus at regular intervals to collect assignments as well as free meals, says Georgina C. Pérez, a Democrat on the Texas State Board of Education representing District 1, which includes El Paso, Webb, and Uvalde Counties. Arredondo informed the Leader-News He was proud of the work his team did in such a challenging environment. His return to the in-person school offered him the opportunity to build stronger relationships with his students as well.
“Of course, my title is important, but having a good group is also important,” Arredondo told the local paper. “If not, you can surely fail.”
On May 7 of this year, a little more than two weeks before the Robb Elementary School shooting, Arredondo won Uvalde’s District 3 City Council seat, collecting 126 of the 182 votes cast in a contested race.
TIME reached out and interviewed a woman named Arredondo in 2012’s marriage records. It was also clear to five high school graduates that Arredondo is protected by many. Until the shooting at Uvalde, the officer seemed to have been quietly living in Uvalde. The woman identified in public records as Arredondo’s wife declined TIME’s request for an interview as did others who have known him for years.
Judy Quiroz, who attended Uvalde High School with Arredondo and remains his friend, tells TIME that her nephew, who is a student at Robb Elementary School and was there the day of the shooting, is “traumatized”—but that she believes the focus in Uvalde is on the wrong thing. Only one individual is responsible for the events: The gunman. She hopes Arredondo will be allowed to resign if he wishes, and not fired. “When this position opened up in Uvalde…he had told me that he had always wanted to come back and help the community and go back to his hometown,” Quiroz says. “That’s why I’m just so disheartened to hear that they’re trying to get rid of Him of all people because, I mean, bottom line is, it’s the shooter’s fault.”
Arredondo remains in her contact, but she is not able to provide any specifics. “I text him and I’ll tell [Arredondo], you know, I’m thinking about you, I’m praying for you. All he does is say, `I appreciate it, thank you, I appreciate it, thank you.’”
Continue reading: Schools Are Putting More Cops on Campus—Despite the ‘Abject Failure’ in Uvalde
Hearing by the Texas State Senate, June 21, Steven C. McCraw, Director and Colonel of DPS, was unflinching in his criticism of how law enforcement responded to the Uvalde shooting, even as he noted that his agency’s investigation into events at Robb Elementary was not then complete. “There’s compelling evidence that the law-enforcement response to the attack at Robb Elementary was an abject failure,” he said, “and antithetical to everything we’ve learned over the last two decades since the Columbine massacre.”
Arredondo, who had been in the ranks at Uvalde’s police for approximately six years before the tragedy that brought about the new era of school massacres was committed, was already among the top cops..When a group of teenagers killed twelve students and one teacher in Columbine suburb, Colo. in 1999, most of the damage was done even though officers were gathered outside. ColumbineAmerican-style danger was a common term that was used to describe active shooters.
Steve McCraw from the Texas Department of Public Safety testified at a Texas Senate hearing in Austin on June 21.
The gold standard in what the FBI calls an active shooter situation is to move immediately to stop the killing, by “neutralizing” the shooter, then to stop the dying, by providing immediate on-scene first aid to as many of the injured as one can. As soon as possible, hospital-based medical attention should be provided. Investigators discovered that Robb Elementary was the place where Arredondo gave commands that allowed him to fire his gun for over 70 hours. The gunman, armed with an AR-15-style rifle, stood in a classroom with teachers and children for more than an hour, while 376 law enforcement officials—ranging from Border Patrol agents to DPS agents, members of a San Antonio SWAT team to area game wardens—waited in Robb Elementary’s hallways and outside the school building. A bulletproof vest was worn by one officer. He also wore a ballistic helmet and took the opportunity to use the wall-mounted dispenser of hand-sanitizer.
“Three minutes after the subject entered the West building [of Robb Elementary]There was [a] sufficient number of armed officers wearing body armor to isolate, distract and neutralize the subject,” McCraw said at the Senate hearing. “The only thing stopping a hallway of dedicated officers from entering Room 111 and 112 was the on-scene commander who decided to place the lives of officers before the lives of children.”
Continue reading: ‘None of Us Go Into Education to Be Human Shields.’ Teachers Who Survived Past School Shootings Are Furious After Uvalde
That kind of waiting runs counter to the best practices for officers in active shooting situations, says J. Pete Blair, executive director of ALERRT, the Texas State University active-shooter-training center. In 2013, training provided by ALERRT—which is based at a campus that is also home to a training center where, state records indicate, Arredondo has attended sessions on at least three occasions—was deemed the “National Standard in Active Shooter Response Training” by the FBI. ALERRT trained over 200,000 police officers in 2002.
On May 24, police tape was placed outside Robb Elementary School, Uvalde Texas.
Eric Thayer—Bloomberg/Getty Images
“The mindset has to be, I must and will go in,” Blair says. “Understand that your job as a police officer, one of the core functions of policing that’s really being held up to public scrutiny right now, is this idea that if something bad is happening, we expect you to stop it, even at risk of your own life.”
This means officers responding to an active shooter must put aside the natural human instinct to protect one’s own life. Texas State University researchers found that 43 active-shooter events were held between 2000 and 2018, with 82 cops being injured. 25 officers also died as a result.
“You are trying to get officers to enter a deadly situation where not only are other people being killed but they could be killed,” Blair says. “This extreme condition is something that most officers will go through their entire career [and] never encounter.”
He adds that many officers go through their careers without firing a gun. Although officers might have had training in the past, it can impact how they react to real-life situations. Many departments have been shortstaffed over the years and have little time for training. In the midst of all of that, officers are expected to “perform as if you are an experienced combat veteran.” To do that officers need consistent high-quality training, not something like a weekend seminar, Blair says.
Blair states that none of this is meant to be excused. The core instruction of any kind of active-shooter training that he’s aware of is the same: distract, contain, or kill the shooter as quickly as possible, then immediately turn attention to trying to save the lives of the injured. This is the only exception.
However, in many cases, the Supreme Court ruled that police and the state have no obligation to protect people except under certain conditions. One case that was very well-known in 2005 saw the Supreme Court rule that police officers who fail to protect individuals from harm are not violators of the 14th Amendment.
And on July 17, members of a Texas House of Representatives committee designated to investigate the shooting published a 77-page report that, while it details Arredondo’s failures, also notes that he wasn’t the only person who fell short the day of the shooting. The Border Patrol unit that arrived on the scene and eventually led the classroom breach had the same information Arredondo had, the report said, but still waited for a “rifle-rated” shield and a master key before entering the classroom. A sergeant with the Uvalde Police Department, agreeing with Arredondo’s assessment of the situation, also reported the shooter was “barricaded” while requesting further equipment from DPS. The report also found that the school relied on an app rather than the school’s intercom to send out lockdown alerts, despite spotty wi-fi at Robb and the fact that not all teachers carried their phones at all times. Some people didn’t have the app on their smartphones. Adding to security problems at Robb was its location; frequent alarms caused by border patrol chasing undocumented immigrants “contributed to a diminished sense of vigilance about responding to security alerts.”
Rashawn Raymond, a sociologist who studies policing, is the Executive Director of the Lab for Applied Social Science Research (University of Maryland College Park). He believes there are legitimate concerns about how effective training has been and what public resources have been used to support it. He says that the culture of silence and the lack of accountability at Uvalde are also factors in the fight for accountability. “Groupthink mentality, that’s part of the way they are trained,” he says, “and it can cause everything from everyone doing the same thing, the wrong thing, on a scene to keeping quiet about it after.”
Robb Elementary School massacre memorial on June 24, 2009.
Jordan Vonderhaar—Getty Images
The thick wall of silence that’sArredondo is a complex figure. It’s hard to see how his experience, training, community involvement, and enthusiasm for his job did not result in a better outcome.
Arredondo only gave one interview with media after the shooting. This was in the Texas TribuneJuni 9, He stated that he didn’t know that he was actually the incident commander that day. Arredondo also provided a variety of reasons why he had left his radio behind in his car and why it took officers more than an hour for them to reach the location where the shooter, who was surrounded by students, was hiding. “The only thing that was important to me at this time was to save as many teachers and children as possible,” Arredondo told the Tribune. Arredondo also defended himself when he spoke to the Texas House Committee. “I just knew that [the shooter] was cornered,” he said, describing the officers as a “wall” between the gunman and children elsewhere in the school.
Continue reading: ‘It’s Too Late for Prayer.’ Uvalde’s Faith Leaders Are Called Upon to Help a Community Face the Unimaginable
“I don’t think of the chief, in any way, as a bad person at all,” McCraw, of the DPS, said at the State Senate hearing in June. “I just think he made some bad decisions.”
McCraw declined to speak with TIME, and repeated calls and emails to DPS, the state’s law enforcement agency, were not returned. McCraw has stated publicly that Uvalde County’s district attorney had restricted information flow. (“There is probably a huge civil settlement that is going to come out of this,” says Ray, the policing researcher. “So they are reluctant to say anything that might resonate.” Ray adds that he wouldn’t be surprised if conversations have already begun about the possibility of eliminating the school district’s small police force, even though the agency grew by two officers as recently as August 2021, according to the Leader-News.)
McCraw and other witnesses cited a number of failings at McCraw’s June 21 hearing. Radios from officers of multiple agencies were unable to work within the school because they had radio signal strength problems.. However, the state senators appeared divided over a single question. Was Arredondo responsible for the entire system’s failure that occurred that day or just Arredondo?
DPS’s initial investigation found several people had concerns over the shooter’s behavior long before the violence he committed on May 24, but did not share those concerns with law enforcement. The Texas House investigative committee on the shooting “did not find any ‘villains’ in the course of its investigation,” their report states. “There is no one to whom we can attribute malice or ill motives. Instead, we found systemic failures and egregious poor decision making.”
State senator Paul Bettencourt, a Republican from the Houston area, argued that no training “could have overcome [Arredondo]’s inability to command,” and that he “should have removed himself from the situation immediately, because just by looking at his response he’s incapable of it.”
When Bettencourt claimed that Arredondo “should have never even been in the job,” McCraw responded with one word: “Absolutely.”
One exchange between McCraw and State Senator Roland Gutierrez—a Democrat who represents a district that includes Uvalde, and who has since filed suit against DPS seeking more information about what happened that day—seemed to capture the tension. Gutierrez has raised questions publicly about the functioning of the state’s entire law-enforcement apparatus.
Roland Gutierrez, Texas state senator, speaks at a Uvalde town square news conference on June 2.
Jae C. Hong—AP
“[He] may not want to be the incident commander, but if you issue commands and if you are the ranking official, you end up being the incident commander,” McCraw said about Arredondo at the June 21 Texas Senate hearing.
When Gutierrez asked if McCraw’s declaration applies to a commander who didn’t have a working radio with which to communicate orders, McCraw countered that he “believe[s] in my heart” there were at times perhaps as many as 18 officers physically present with Arredondo in the hallway of the school—officers in earshot who would have been willing to risk their lives to act, if only their leader had told them to. McCraw stated during the Texas Senate hearing that only three officers should have been able to accomplish this task.
“But again, you’ve just testified that active-shooter protocols take precedence over incident commander and therefore every officer…should have just gone into that room,” Gutierrez said during the Texas Senate hearing. “And you and I have had that discussion before, haven’t we?”
“Well, that’s a little bit disingenuous, but yes,” McCraw said.
“Disingenuous?” Gutierrez said. “Why?”
“Because,” McCraw replied, “bottom line is there is always someone who takes the lead.”
—Mariah Espada reports.
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