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Monday, February 6, 2023

What Las Vegas Police Learned from the Deadliest Shooting in U.S. History

In a new after-action report that Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said “closes the book” on Las Vegas’ infamous mass shooting, officials highlighted numerous points in the response to the Route 91 Harvest festival attack where their city — and others — can strengthen preparedness for next time.

“Reflection and review of our overall response to this event are necessary for the victims, ourselves, the Las Vegas community, and the first-responder community at large,” Lombardo wrote at the outset of the 158-page report. “In our chosen profession of policing, we often cannot control what takes place on the ground that we have been commissioned to protect and serve. However, we always have control over how we respond in the aftermath.”

Fifty-eight people were killed and more than 850 wounded in the massacre, and the sheriff stressed that “a comprehensive review of our work can save lives, which is the ultimate goal of first responders.”

According to the detailed timeline, shooter Stephen Paddock killed himself 11-13 minutes after the first shot was fired at 10:05 p.m. Three minutes after opening fire on the festival, Stephen Paddock took his first shots with .308 rounds at fuel tanks east of the concert lot. The first four rounds missed the target, while the fifth round struck the top of the tank and the sixth round hit the bottom. He then continued firing at the concert crowd.

Seven minutes after Paddock began shooting, two Las Vegas police officers were struck while at different locations. A minute or two before Paddock is believed to have killed himself, a public information officer received the first phone call regarding the incident from a local news reporter; the PIO would end up first tweeting about an active shooter at 10:38 p.m.

A SWAT sniper team was deployed in a helicopter to stop Paddock, but it was hard for the team to get close enough to the hotel to spot the shooter and the SWAT commander had no radio communications with the team in the air. Officers in the Mandalay Bay parking garage similarly had poor radio reception.

The first two police officers were on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay at 10:17 p.m., and they encountered hotel security officer Jesus Campos, who had been wounded in the calf by a bullet fragment. The sound of gunfire had stopped, and at 10:26 p.m. officers started evacuating the floor under the belief that Paddock was barricaded in his room.

At 11:20 p.m., officers used explosives to get into Paddock’s room, where they found him with a gunshot wound to the head. “A Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) officer had an unintentional discharge from his rifle following the explosive breach to the interior door between Room 32-134 and 32-135,” the report noted, adding that the misfire caused minor damage to the furniture.

Search warrants had been obtained for Paddock’s adjoining hotel rooms and car, which was in hotel valet parking, by 3:25 a.m., and for his home in Mesquite, Nev., by 4:30 a.m. Officers cleared the Mandalay Bay, with 3,203 rooms, by 5 a.m.

Meanwhile, at the concert festival scene, the Coroner’s Office began processing the scene after 2 a.m. and a family assistance center was opened at the Las Vegas Convention Center at 1 p.m. The FBI Evidence Recovery Team (ERT) moved in at 2:45 p.m. and took over the 17.5-acre crime scene. The last death notification was completed on the morning of Oct. 4, 2017.

“While shots were being fired, the civilian assigned to the Events Planning Section working the CP inside the festival lot broadcasted ‘all units switch to CCAC,’ which was the radio channel for broadcasting and containing information about the incident,” the report noted. “Officers who struggled to switch their radio channel as they were taking fire attempted to remove their radios from their duty belts to change channels with firearms in one hand.”

Inside the festival grounds with 22,000 fans was a medical tent that “quickly became inundated with the critically injured,” and “medical resources staged to the east of the festival lot were quickly overwhelmed due to the number and severity of those injured.” Some in the crowds fleeing the venue tried to take vehicles from the lot where police who had been working the concert festival parked their patrol and personal vehicles. “Officers were overwhelmed by the crowd trying to commandeer available vehicles. In some instances, those fleeing tried to get officers’ firearms, distracting officers from focusing on the threat or tending to the injured,” the report said. “Looking for a way to transport critically injured attendees to the hospital, one attendee took a police truck and later called the Communications Bureau to report that it had been taken to Desert Springs Hospital.”

“…Reports of additional shooters inside the venue and at other locations on the Las Vegas Strip made it difficult for officers to move toward the threat due to so many attendees fleeing. Officers and supervisors scanned for weapons and additional threats running toward them as attendees fled.”

Officers were also leaving their festival positions to form strike teams with other officers, searching for survivors and active threats. Because of this movement, the perimeter of the scene was not secured until sunrise — vendors and attendees were able to access the crime scene through unsecured gates and through barriers that had been breached by fleeing crowds.

First responders also had to deal with small fires sparked by propane tanks left on and food still cooking when vendors fled the lot. Some fire personnel had entered the grounds with officers to find and assist survivors before Unified Command gave the all clear and declared there were no more hot zones. However, because so many first responders with diverse jobs and skills showed up to help, the UC found it easier to assign specific roles with the incident response.

Fleeing concertgoers were also reporting an older white male they suspected to be a second shooter, one of multiple suspect descriptions broadcast over the radio; a strike team found the man at an RV near Motel 6 and discovered he was a survivor of the mass shooting, not a suspect. The bomb squad also responded to a report of a suspicious black Audi at the Luxor, only to find it was an autonomous vehicle. Police juggled nearly three hours’ worth of reports coming in about purported active shooters along the Vegas Strip that required response and vetting, as well as injured concertgoers calling 911 from other locations in the city after escaping the festival. “These were distractions to the investigation yet important medical and safety responses,” the report noted.

The report includes 93 recommendations to enhance preparedness for future incidents — utilizing lessons learned from the country’s deadliest mass shooting.

These include holding monthly meetings with stakeholders in the tourism industry and enhancing active-shooter awareness education, assigning a police dispatcher to work the designated channel during large events, and training officers on clearance techniques and preventing duplication of efforts for larger-scale and open-air venues and events.

Other recommendations include:

  • “Evaluate the need for policy, procedures, and training regarding SWAT Aerial Platform Snipers in the event of an active-shooter incident where the shooter is at an elevated position of advantage” and “expand active-shooter training to include a barricaded active shooter when the shooter is in a position of advantage.”
  • Put into the incident response plan a second command post location in case the primary post is inoperable.
  • “Create and strengthen policy to control and manage the inevitable self-deployment of off-duty first responders during these types of incidents.”
  • Develop staging software as a tech solution to account for and manage deployed incident resources.
  • Utilize technology for staff to log in remotely with call signs, assignments, and locations.
  • Include radio discipline in training exercises.
  • Ensure information released to the public is well-vetted and possibly increase PIO staff, especially online and on social media.
  • Find a critical incident management software program “with sufficient capacity to accommodate an investigation the size of 1 October,” accessible to all investigative personnel.
  • Better coordinate next-of-kin death notifications with area hospitals.
  • Make sure every law enforcement agency in the county creates policy, procedures, and protocols for a comprehensive mass-casualty incident plan and strengthen training relationships with partner agencies, including federal.
  • Explore whether to create equipment stash locations at events so that officers would be able to grab weapons and personal protective equipment quickly in case of an emergency.
  • Strive for full communications capacity inside Las Vegas buildings by the end of 2020.
  • Keep public transportation and ride-sharing services in the loop on mass casualty incident training.

Ultimately, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department concluded they were “successful in many aspects of our overall response because we relied on the talented and dedicated professionals who were motivated to stop the killing and save lives.”

“It is apparent to us as an agency that there are many areas where we must improve to better serve our community in the future,” the report added. “It is our sincere hope that by authoring an AAR detailing the lessons learned by LVMPD before, during, and after 1 October we can provide insight and drive positive change for first-responder agencies across the world. This AAR is our way to further our profession and honor the 58 lives lost and countless others who are forever changed.”

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Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a terrorism analyst and security consultant with a specialty in online open-source extremist propaganda, incitement, recruitment, and training. She hosts and presents in Homeland Security Today law enforcement training webinars studying a range of counterterrorism topics including conspiracy theory extremism, complex coordinated attacks, critical infrastructure attacks, arson terrorism, drone and venue threats, antisemitism and white supremacists, anti-government extremism, and WMD threats. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15 and a private investigator. Bridget is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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