By Brendan O'Brien
(Reuters) -Texas state police have adopted a more aggressive strategy for responding to school shootings after scathing criticism of law enforcement's handling of a massacre in Uvalde that killed 19 children and two teachers.
The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) confirmed in an email on Wednesday that it had made changes in the protocol for its officers responding to a mass shooting such as the May 24 massacre in Uvalde, a small town in Texas Hill Country, about 80 miles (130 km) west of San Antonio.
In an emailed statement, DPS also said it had referred five of its officers to the state inspector general for investigation into their actions during the shooting at Robb Elementary School. Two have already been suspended with pay.
The DPS, which includes the Texas Rangers, created an internal committee in July to investigate how its officers responded. It referred the five officers to the state inspector general based on that investigation.
Also in July, DPS Director Steven McCraw sent an email outlining changes in the protocol for DPS officers responding to a mass shooting, the department said on Wednesday. DPS sent a copy of the email to Reuters.
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"Officers responding to an active shooter at a school will be authorized to overcome any delay to neutralizing an attacker," McCraw wrote in the July email. "When a subject fires a weapon at a school he remains an active shooter until he is neutralized and is not to be treated as a 'barricaded subject.'"
In the wake of the shooting, criticism of law enforcement's response centered on Pete Arredondo, who was fired last week as the school district's police chief.
According to the DPS, Arredondo acted as "incident commander" in charge of the overall response, though he has said he did not consider himself the commander on scene.
DPS officials said 19 officers waited for an hour in a hallway outside adjoining classrooms where the gunman was holed up with his victims before a U.S. Border Patrol-led tactical team finally made entry and killed the suspect.
A report by state lawmakers, released in July, said a total of 376 law enforcement officers, including more than 90 state police offices, rushed to the school in a chaotic scene marked by a lack of clear leadership and sufficient urgency.
(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Chicago; Editing by Richard Chang, Brad Brooks and Jonathan Oatis)