A federally commissioned review of the Orlando Police Department’s response to the Pulse Nightclub massacre is drawing criticism from some active-shooter experts.
Released last month, the 198-page report was produced by the Police Foundation, a D.C.-based nonprofit organization, at the request of the U.S. Department of Justice.
The report commends Orlando police for a “strong” response to Omar Mateen, the lone gunman who embarked on a shooting spree June 12, 2016 inside the LGBT nightclub, killing 49 patrons and wounding 58 others.
But critics say the report fails to properly analyze a six-minute interval during which Mateen shot about 100 people inside Pulse while local police remained outside.
The report concludes that police used the six minutes effectively by organizing two “contact teams” prior to entering Pulse.
But Chris Grollnek, an active-shooter expert based in McKinney, Texas, disagrees. He said police should have entered Pulse within 90 seconds of Mateen’s arrival, when they had him outnumbered.
“You never wait outside while somebody shoots people inside,” Grollnek said. “You attempt to neutralize the shooter as rapidly as possible. If [Florida] Gov. [Rick] Scott’s family were inside, would police have waited six minutes to enter Pulse?”
Adam W. Lankford, a mass-shooting expert and criminology professor at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, echoed those sentiments.
“The active shooter is the source of the problem,” Lankford told PGN. “You have to focus on the source as quickly as possible. In other words, if you have a hole in the bottom of your boat, you don’t sit there and go into an in-depth plan on how to fix the hole. Every minute counts. You just fix it.”
Lankford added: “The report doesn’t critically analyze whether the benefits of forming contact teams is offset by the number of victims who may die during the delay. The report doesn’t raise that point.”
Lankford said he wasn’t accusing Orlando police of cowardice.
“The officers who responded to Pulse are human beings. I wouldn’t say it’s cowardice if they were afraid and hesitant to enter the club without backup. But, certainly, that doesn’t mean we want them to do what they did and wait six minutes to enter the club.”
Lankford acknowledged many acts of bravery by local police and emergency responders.
“There’s no doubt that the officers [at Pulse] attempted to balance the risks to the civilians who were there and the risks to themselves. And, so, they were balancing that. But they weren’t simply doing whatever it took to rescue the victims. They were not willing to go to any lengths to save lives. They were only willing to take certain risks.”
Chaos continued while Mateen was barricaded with hostages in a women’s restroom inside Pulse, according to Grollnek.
“Police lost the tactical advantage at Pulse within the first 90 seconds and didn’t regain it for three hours,” he said. “They let Mateen keep the advantage for way too long, which the report fails to criticize.”
After Mateen was confined to a women’s restroom at 2:10 a.m., police should have promptly rescued victims in other parts of Pulse who weren’t trapped with Mateen in the restroom, Lankford added.
“Once this shooter was barricaded in the bathroom and no longer firing, they should have gotten everyone out of the club much more quickly,” Lankford opined.
Instead, news accounts indicate that some officers exited the building and remained outside while multiple victims inside were in critical condition.
According to dispatch logs, Orlando police deployed a robot into Pulse at 3:59 a.m. that ordered victims inside to “stay put.”
About an hour later, police initiated an exterior-wall breach the report calls “an appropriate tactical decision,” adding that “the suspect was quickly neutralized by law enforcement.”
But Lankford emphatically disagrees. He said the wall breach lacked “speed and surprise,” which are essential elements for a successful rescue.
“There was a 13-minute interval between the first explosive detonation by police [and neutralizing Mateen]. That’s an outrageous period of time, which the report glosses over,” Lankford said.
Grollnek said Orlando police underestimated the strength of the wall and miscalculated the restroom’s location when they initiated the wall breach.
“The Orlando police response to Pulse failed on every level,” he continued. “If people rely on this report as the way to conduct an operation of this magnitude, the future loss of life will be incalculable.”
Grollnek emphasized that the Police Foundation’s report shouldn’t be considered “conclusive.” He said he’s willing to serve on a blue-ribbon panel to examine the Pulse incident.
“I don’t want to see something like Pulse happen again,” Grollnek said. “I’d gladly volunteer at no charge to be part of a blue-ribbon panel that examines the Pulse incident — if Gov. Rick Scott were to create such a panel. I’d be honored to help get to the bottom of what went wrong at Pulse and develop best practices moving forward.”
A spokesperson for Scott’s office couldn’t be reached for comment.
Blake L. Norton, vice president and COO of the Police Foundation, issued this statement:
“At the request of the City of Orlando Police Department (OPD) and in coordination with the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, the Police Foundation created a critical-incident review-assessment team and conducted an independent comprehensive review and assessment of the public-safety response to the Pulse terrorist attack. As a national nonmember, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, the Police Foundation regularly conducts unbiased and comprehensive assessments of critical incidents, as evidenced by our diverse library of work
“The Pulse assessment team, comprised of Police Foundation staff as well as policing, tactical, and hostage-negotiation subject matter experts, based all of the observations and lessons learned on the totality of resources reviewed — including OPD policies, procedures, protocols, and training for active shooter and hostage scenarios; interviews and focus groups conducted; and, additional research on national and international lessons learned and promising practices, model policies, and evidence-based practices and protocols.
“While anonymous critics are certainly entitled to their opinion, what is clear here is that the OPD followed nationally recognized promising practice by engaging the subject, forming a contact team as soon as additional officers arrived, and confining the subject in order to extricate victims and transport them to medical care.”
A spokesperson for the Orlando Police Department issued this statement:
“As you know, the [department] has a great reputation of its transparency to the public. Chief [John R.] Mina requested the Department of Justice complete an independent review of the Pulse Terror Attack. Upon completion of the review, Chief Mina held a press briefing and provided answers to all of the questions following the public release of the review, which is available to everyone. I have provided the link and it has been published on our social media. The review is very thorough. However, the FBI investigation of the terror incident is still active.”