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Texas State Police downplay their role in Uvalde shooting failures, report says

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

After a gunman entered an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and killed 19 children and two teachers, investigators focused on law enforcement's long delay in intervening. The school police chief was fired, and the city's acting police chief was suspended. But a new investigative report finds state troopers actually outnumbered local responders 2 to 1. And the Department of Public Service, which had dozens of its officers on the scene, controlled the flow of information to deflect responsibility for what happened. Steve Inskeep asked journalist Lomi Kriel of the ProPublica-Texas Tribune Investigative Unit about the reporting.

LOMI KRIEL: What our story was about was really the role of the state police, the Department of Public Safety. We know they had 91 officers at the scene, many of them, and specifically at least one, was there within 4 minutes of the shooting. Several high-level officers were there pretty soon after that. Nobody has really discussed the role that the Department of Public Safety played at Uvalde. And then our reporting showed that, you know, how early they were there and what other law enforcement experts said they should have done given the lack of action.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It was widely understood that the local police chief was the incident commander. He was given the orders or failing to. Is there something wrong with that part of the story?

KRIEL: Some of the things that we uncovered in our reporting - that nobody was really in control and the Department of Public Safety, any supervisor should have been asking their officers, who's in charge? What's going on? Who's commanding the scene? And when it was unclear, they should have approached the school police chief and said, hey, we can take it from here, at the very least.

INSKEEP: You say the DPS didn't take a lead role in the response as it had done before during other mass shootings and public disasters. Would it have been normal for them to say, we're taking over?

KRIEL: The history of sort of law enforcement response is that the first officer arriving at a scene becomes sort of the incident commander because that person is generally most knowledgeable about the incident. But with DPS in particular, the lack of sort of any action in Uvalde was quite striking because it had played a key role in many statewide emergencies before. So, you know, the lack of sort of any action on their part was quite striking here.

INSKEEP: Was the Department of Public Safety frank about its own role in this shooting?

KRIEL: No. And they never have, and I think that is part of the story. They were the ones who held the press conferences right after the shooting. They're also the ones that are investigating the law enforcement response, which is interesting because, you know, it includes their own officers. They had 91 troopers at the scene. And there's been very little mention of their role in the shooting. It wasn't until this week that the Department of Public Safety even acknowledged that, you know, there'd been any wrongdoing on the part of their troopers. They said that they'd referred five of them to their own internal affairs and suspended two. You know, three months after the fact, we're only now getting any information about any kind of disciplinary action from the state police.

INSKEEP: Now that they have referred some officers for investigation, has the department said in a broader sense, we didn't do this right, we want to change some things, here's what we want to change?

KRIEL: No, they have not answered any questions, really. Frankly, they just haven't released anything that could help the public understand both what happened that day but also what their guidance and protocols are. And so I think at a basic minimum, just sort of some more light on to that would help us understand.

INSKEEP: Lomi Kriel of the ProPublica-Texas Tribune Investigative Unit, thanks so much.

KRIEL: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.