There’s a difference between front-line leadership and command. Both are important, even admirable, skill sets. But any experienced commander can tell you that trying to employ one when the other is needed often leads to suboptimal outcomes.
Sometimes it even leads to death.
That may have been exactly what happened on May 24 during the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, new information indicates.
According to The Texas Tribune, Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Police Chief Pete Arredondo failed in multiple ways to take command of the situation on the ground, assuming — even though he was chief of police and one of the first on the scene — that “some other officer or official” was doing his job by taking “control of the larger response.”
Instead, Arredondo, “took on the role of a front-line responder,” The Tribune said.
Worse, Arredondo made the fateful decision to be a front-line responder who wasn’t carrying a radio with him.
“Thinking he was the first officer to arrive and wanting to waste no time, Arredondo believed that carrying the radios would slow him down,” The Tribune reported. “One had a whiplike antenna that would hit him as he ran. The other had a clip that Arredondo knew would cause it to fall off his tactical belt during a long run.”
That left the chief out of touch with “the scores of other officers from at least five agencies” who responded to Robb Elementary that day.
It also meant that he was not aware of 911 calls that might have provided him with critical information as the day unfolded.
Even if we allow for the idea that Arredondo’s belief that “some other officer or official” had taken command was reasonable — and I, for one, am unwilling to give him a pass on that, at least given what we know now — wouldn’t he want to be in touch with whomever that person would turn out to be?
Arredondo’s statements amount to something along the lines of, “I assumed someone else was in command, and whoever that was, I saw no need to talk with him.”
That’s not a good look for a commander or a front-line responder.
Worse, there’s at least some reason to believe that Arredondo’s delays resulted directly in additional unnecessary deaths.
We do not — and perhaps never will — know whether additional victims were shot during the 77 minutes the chief and his men spent radio-less in the hallway, locked out of the classroom from which 18-year-old Salvador Ramos held them at bay. However, one of the two teachers who had been shot died in an ambulance, and three of the young students shot died after transportation to local hospitals, The New York Times reported.
Perhaps none of the four would have survived had the chief acted with more dispatch. But perhaps all of them would have.
Here’s where I do give Arredondo some credit: I believe that Arredondo wasn’t thinking clearly and therefore exercised poor judgment because he was so concerned about the children in danger from a homicidal maniac at loose in an elementary school — the same elementary school he himself had attended as a boy. I think his heart was in the right place.
Arredondo’s lawyer, George Hyde — not an objective source, I’ll grant you — said that one officer had offered to take the chief’s place so he could leave the building, get his body armor and come back.
“He said, ‘F*** you. I’m not leaving this hallway,’” according to Hyde. “He wasn’t going to leave without those kids.”
Wrong answer. First responders risk their lives all the time, but they have to balance that with their obligation to protect themselves. A dead or badly wounded police chief wasn’t going to be saving any lives, and the few minutes it would have taken Arredondo to suit up wouldn’t have cost him anything.
Emotionally, I imagine it felt like the right thing to do. But emotion is not an ally of the commander; it’s a distraction, at best. That response is strong evidence that Arredondo was incapable of leading anything effectively in that moment.
Arredondo should never have been in that hallway. He certainly shouldn’t have been there without his radios. And if he were that emotionally compromised, maybe he shouldn’t have been on-site at all.
Had he acted otherwise, Arredondo would not have been able to save 21 lives. Nothing he could have done differently would have accomplished that.
But maybe he could have saved a few. Maybe four. Maybe even a few more than that. We’ll never know.
Neither will he. For that, at least, he deserves our sympathy.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.