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Crime

Despite ample school security plan, Texas shooter found gaps

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8 minute read

By Collin Binkley And Kantele Franko

Robb Elementary School had measures in place to prevent this kind of violence. A fence lined the school property. Teachers were ordered to keep classroom doors closed and locked. Students faced regular lockdown and evacuation drills.

But when an 18-year-old man arrived Tuesday at the school in Uvalde, Texas, intent on killing children, none of it stopped him.

Security failures allowed the shooter to massacre 19 students and two teachers, school safety experts say. The shooting already has led to calls to fortify schools further, on top of millions spent on equipment and other measures following earlier shootings. But more security offers drawbacks, with no guarantee of an end to mass violence. In the worst case, as in Uvalde, it could backfire.

“You can do the best job you can to prevent a school crisis, but we cannot read the minds of all the criminals who are out there,” said Ronald Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center, a nonprofit that works with schools across the country. “We cannot prevent all crime.”

According to a district safety plan, Uvalde schools had a wide range of measures in place to prevent violence. The district had four police officers and four support counselors, according to the plan, which appears to be dated from the 2019-20 school year. The district had software to monitor social media for threats and software to screen school visitors.

Yet when the gunman arrived at the school, he hopped its fence and easily entered through a back door that had been propped open, officials said. Behind the locked door of a fourth-grade classroom, he gunned down children and teachers.

Amid the attack, nearly 20 officers stood in a hallway because the on-site commander believed the gunman was barricaded in the classroom and children were not at risk, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw said at a Friday news conference, saying “it was the wrong decision.”

The case underscores that even the strongest security plans can be undermined by a seemingly simple lapse, said Curtis Lavarello, executive director of the School Safety Advocacy Council, which provides training on school safety. The Texas school appeared to be doing many things right, he said, but none of that mattered once the gunman was able to walk unobstructed into the building and into a classroom.

“All those things on paper mean nothing if they’re not followed in practice. And there seemed to be a number of gaps,” he said.

In the aftermath of the shooting, some Republicans have been calling for further investments in school safety to prevent more attacks. Some have pushed for more armed police in schools, along with metal detectors and measures to make it harder to enter schools.

Among those promoting physical security measures is Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Appearing on Fox News on Wednesday, he brought up 2013 legislation that would have created grants to help schools install bulletproof doors and hire armed police officers among other measures.

If those grants had gone to Robb Elementary, Cruz said, “the armed police officers could have taken him out and we would have 19 children and two teachers still alive.”

Security experts say the Uvalde case illustrates how fortifying schools can backfire. A lock on the classroom door — one of the most basic and widely recommended school safety measures — kept victims in and police out.

U.S. Border Patrol agents eventually used a master key to open the locked door of the classroom where they confronted and killed the gunman, McCraw said at the Friday news conference.

Some argue that investments in school security have come at the expense of student welfare. Lockdown drills that have become routine for a generation of American students have traumatized students and added to strains on mental health, educators say.

Schools need more counselors and psychologists to help troubled students, not stronger buildings, said Dewey Cornell, a psychologist and director of the Virginia Youth Violence Project at the University of Virginia.

“We have systemically reduced the number of support staff in our schools, and focused too much on installing metal detectors and surveillance cameras and electronic door locks, which are very short term and reactive and very expensive,” he said.

In the wake of the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, schools across the country began spending huge sums of money on fortifications including bulletproof glass, metal detectors and armed security.

But such measures can create an atmosphere where students feel uncomfortable and less trusting, and it does not necessarily prevent attacks, said Matthew Mayer, a Rutgers associate professor who works on issues related to school violence.

“You’ll go down these sort of endless rabbit holes of how much security is enough. And when it comes to someone who’s coming in heavily armed, you’re not going to stop them,” Mayer said. “So the idea is you need to figure out why people do this in the first place and have ways — multi-level systems of prevention — to prevent it from happening.”

He advocates for a multi-faceted prevention approach that also includes steps such as improving mental health services, assessing threats more effectively and building trust so students and families are not afraid to speak up if they’re concerned someone has the means or intent to cause harm.

Still, schools can only do so much, he said, and he isn’t optimistic that public outrage over Uvalde will lead to significant change.

“The problem is that a lot of this public reaction, you know, sort of rises like a wave and then recedes over time, and the politicians have been accustomed to riding that out. You know, they make speeches and so forth, and sometimes there’s a commission that gets appointed, and they issue reports,” Mayer said. “But substantive change is lacking.”

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Crime

Civil rights group says Vancouver has at least one secret police station

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VANCOUVER — A Spanish civil rights group says Vancouver has at least one secret police station operated by Chinese authorities.

The group Safeguard Defenders said in a report in September that there were Chinese police operations around the world, including three in Toronto, and an updated report names another 48 locations.

Safeguard Defenders, a not-for-profit human rights group, said two of the new locations are in Canada: one in Vancouver and the second unknown.

The group’s previous investigation looked into the expansion of “long-arm policing” and transnational repression imposed by the Chinese government.

Its latest report, titled “Patrol and Persuade,” gathered more evidence on how these police station function and their “persuasions of return” strategies, the group said in its report.

“Patrol and Persuade also documents the silent complicity of a number of host countries, instilling a further sense of fear into targeted communities and severely undermining the international rules-based order,” Safeguard Defenders said in an online statement.

Its previous report alleged employees from the overseas police system use intimidation and threats to enforce the “involuntary” return of immigrants back to China for persecution.

The group claimed that between April 2021 and July 2022, Chinese police “persuaded” 230,000 claimed fugitives to return to China.

No one from the Chinese Embassy was immediately available for comment on the new information, but it has previously described the offices as volunteer-run service stations to process things like driver’s licences.

The report said the newly documented Vancouver-based police station is being operated by authorities from Wenzhou, a port and industrial city in China’s Zhejiang province.

It said most of the newly documented stations were set up starting in 2016, directly refuting the government of China’s previous statements that the operations were started in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“New information shows at least one illegal ‘persuasion to return’ operation run through the Wenzhou station in Paris, France; and at least 80 cases where the Nantong overseas police system assisted in the capture and/or persuasion to return operation,” the report said.

The group claimed their work prompted at least 12 countries, including Canada, to launch investigations into local police stations.

A series of recommendations have been listed by Safeguard Defenders for all governments to consider, such as educating local law enforcement on the methods used by the operators and imposing costs on entities and individuals involved in the repression efforts.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last month he raised the issue of interference directly with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in Indonesia.

Xi later berated him for informing the media about their conversation.

The RCMP said in early November that it is investigating the issue, and officials told MPs in early October that they were aware of the claims by the group.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 5, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Nono Shen, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Suspect in massive fentanyl bust arrested in Edmonton

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Release from Alberta RCMP on behalf of Saskatchewan RCMP

Over 10 kgs of fentanyl seized after SK RCMP WEST arrest male wanted on multiple warrants

In the Summer of 2022, the Saskatchewan RCMP Warrant and Enforcement Team (WEST) launched an investigation into the arrest of a 42-year-old Kurt Miller who was wanted on 25 outstanding charges.

Miller was wanted on warrants for his involvement in an incident back in May 2020. The Saskatoon RCMP F-SOC (Federal Serious and Organized Crime) team executed a search warrant near Biggar, SK, and an RCMP ERT (Emergency Response Team) officer was injured after shots were fired by the suspects. Miller was arrested on his outstanding matters but failed to appear at his final court proceedings.

Read more: https://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/en/news/2020/saskatchewan-rcmp-federal-serious-and-organized-crime-lay-drug-trafficking-charges

Saskatchewan RCMP WEST working in conjunction with the Regina Police Service, Alberta RCMP, the Edmonton Police Service, Swift Current Saskatchewan RCMP Trafficking Response Team (STRT), RCMP were able to determine that Miller may be in Alberta and actively involved in crime.

On Nov. 1, WEST, along with officers from Moose Jaw RCMP CRT (Crime Reduction Team) and Saskatoon F-SOC deployed to Red Deer, AB, worked in collaboration with the Red Deer ALERT (Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team) and corroborated information to better locate and identify Miller’s whereabouts and activities. Based on all the information gathered by investigators, Miller was believed to be in the city of Edmonton.

The following day, WEST deployed to Edmonton in an effort to locate Miller. Officers conducted proactive patrols and canvassed the areas Miller was believed to have been seen.

On Nov. 3,2022, at 10:00 p.m. WEST was conducting patrols in Edmonton when they observed a male suspect exiting a trailer and placing bags in a vehicle before departing in it. WEST stopped the vehicle along the intersection of 82 Ave and 105 Street. Officers located Miller in the rear seat and he was taken into custody. The driver and female passenger were also taken into custody and released shortly after.

A search of the vehicle incidental to arrest revealed a suitcase and duffle bag containing drug preparation equipment and approximately 10.6 KG of suspected Fentanyl. The Strathcona County RCMP General Investigation Section was advised and have taken carriage of the drug investigation.

As a result of this investigation 42-year-old Kurt Miller of Brownlee, SK, has been charged with the following offences under theControlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) in addition to his outstanding warrants for his arrest:

  • Trafficking 5(1) CDSA;
  • Possession for the Purpose of Trafficking 5(2) CDSA; and
  • Possession of equipment for use in production of substance 7.1(1) CDSA.

Miller was transported back to Saskatchewan to appear in court for his outstanding warrants in relation to the F-SOC investigation. He is scheduled to appear in court in Saskatoon on December 9, 2022, at 11 a.m.

“In this investigation, we seized over 10 kg of fentanyl which had the potential of reaching communities across Saskatchewan and Alberta. Approximately 2 mg of this substance is considered a lethal dose depending on a person’s body size, tolerance and past usage. Our communities are safer because of this drug seizure and the dismantlement of this trafficking operation,” says Superintendent Glenn Church, officer in charge of the Saskatchewan RCMP’s new Saskatchewan Enforcement Response Team (SERT). “This investigation is an example of excellent collaboration between our specialized Saskatchewan RCMP teams and municipal and provincial partner police agencies. Removing illicit drugs from the street and preventing it from reaching our communities continues to be a top priority for the Saskatchewan RCMP.”

Background:

The Saskatchewan Enforcement Response Team (SERT) consists of Saskatchewan RCMP’s Crime Reduction Team (CRT) and Warrant Enforcement Suppression Team (WEST), as well as the Saskatchewan Trafficking Response Team (STRT). SERT will help the Saskatchewan RCMP continue to fulfil its mandate as the province’s police force – keeping our communities safe.

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