WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Justice announced Sunday it will conduct a critical incident review of law enforcement's response to Tuesday's mass shooting that killed 21 people in Uvalde.
Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin requested the review, the department said in a news release.
“The goal of the review is to provide an independent account of law enforcement actions and responses that day, and to identify lessons learned and best practices to help first responders prepare for and respond to active shooter events," department spokesman Anthony Coley said.
“As with prior Justice Department after-action reviews of mass shootings and other critical incidents, this assessment will be fair, transparent, and independent. The Justice Department will publish a report with its findings at the conclusion of its review.”
Such a review is rare. Local law enforcement agencies generally compile after-action reports in the wake of a mass shooting.
"To have the department of justice come in under circumstances like this, when it's not investigating a crime, I think is a little bit unusual," said Gregg Sofer, former U.S. Attorney for Texas's western district, which includes Uvalde.
The department said it will conduct the review with the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). Attorneys say this office's involvement is peculiar, since it generally crafts policy and administers public safety grants to local law enforcement agencies.
Unlike other branches of the justice department, COPS does not have subpoena powers. The office's role is not investigative, nor does it regularly conduct after-action reports.
"If people don't want to speak to them, they won't have to," Sofer said. "It wouldn't surprise me if they have some trouble getting their hands on all of the evidence."
But Sofer said he doesn't believe the feds aim to prosecute any first responders.
"If you were looking to do that, the last thing you'd do is send another team to start looking at exactly the same ground," Sofer said. "It would only complicate things."
COPS' involvement may signal the feds intend to use report findings to further establish best-practices.
"Obviously, the way you develop policy many times is by learning about mistakes in the past," Sofer said. He noted, however, that there are already widely-accepted best practices for responding to a mass shooting.
McLaughlin said in a statement Sunday afternoon that he expects the review to be "fair, transparent and independent."
“Uvalde is suffering unimaginable pain as we prepare to bury the innocent victims of Tuesday’s senseless murders at Robb Elementary School," the statement goes on to read. "My focus is helping parents who lost children, children who lost parents, and young survivors navigate through this horrific nightmare.”
Authorities revealed Friday that students and teachers repeatedly begged 911 operators for help even as a police commander told more than a dozen officers to wait in a school hallway.
Officials said the commander believed that the suspect was barricaded inside an adjoining classroom and that there was no longer an active attack.
The revelation caused more grief and raised new questions about whether more lives were lost because officers did not act faster to stop the gunman, who was ultimately killed by Border Patrol tactical officers.