DOJ releases review of Orlando Police's Pulse attack response

By Jeff Allen, Reporter
Last Updated: Monday, December 18, 2017, 10:55 PM EST

The U.S. Justice Department on Monday released the results of a "critical review" requested by Orlando Police Chief John Mina about the Pulse nightclub shooting.

Orlando Police Chief Mina says he requested this independent review so his department and other law enforcement agencies across the country can be better prepared for more potential mass shootings.

In it, the DOJ's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services says the June 2016 attack perpetrated by Omar Mateen — the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history until the one in Las Vegas a few months ago — forced first responders to use "untested strategies and tactics... to save the lives of seriously wounded victims and hostages and neutralize the threat."

Mateen's attack killed 49 people and wounded 53 others.

The independent federal review identifies best practices, lessons learned and offers guidelines for law enforcement and public safety around the country for future mass-violence incidents.

Overall, the U.S. Department of Justice report,  conducted by Police Foundation, concludes Orlando Police and their law enforcement partners responded to Pulse in a manner consistent with national best practices – and their actions saved lives.  But the nearly 200 page report released Monday does find areas where there can be lessons learned.

The report found that so many law enforcement officers showed up on scene – 300 at one point – but not all of them were necessarily needed.  In fact, two OPD dispatchers remarked that at one point in the Pulse response there were no available units to respond to calls for service in the city or the county.

“I think in a situation like this obviously there’s going to be many officers and responding agencies, and the report does highlight the fact that you have to manage officers who are self-deployed because remember we have the rest of the region to protect as well,” said Chief John Mina.

The report found that OPD officers who first responded to the nightclub had vests, but not the kind that could’ve stopped the shooter’s rifle fire – only small arms fire from handguns. Shortly following the June 2016 mass shooting, OPD gave every officer a new vest designed for active shooter situations.

“They rushed into that building not knowing, you know for perfect strangers, and within minutes of the shots being fired knowing that the rifle the suspect had would’ve penetrated their vests – that’s what I’m most proud of,” said Chief Mina.

The report also found that for several hours the chief of the Orlando Fire Department was not notified about the ongoing incident and the fire department set up a separate incident command, which created a lack of coordination between police, fire and EMS command staff.  

The report found OPD did a good job of immediately assessing the mental health of first responders, providing on-sight assistance to them the morning of the mass shooting.

“Within hours of the incident ending that was one of our greatest concerns was the mental health of our officers,” said Chief Mina.

One question the report does not answer is whether friendly fire responsible for the deaths of anyone else besides the shooter.  Chief Mina says the F.B.I. should answer that questions when it releases its investigative findings, which he believes will be soon.

“To this point there’s no indication of friendly fire, and that’s the way it’s going to remain in my opinion,” said Chief Mina.

The report also revealed new details about the just how horrific and chaotic the Pulse tragedy was for 911dispatchers, who at certain times muted their phones just to collect themselves enough to continue their phone calls with so many critically-injured victims and panicked callers.

"While our assessment team confirmed that the Orlando Police Department’s tactical response was consistent with its policies, procedures, and training as well as recognized promising practices, the current and evolving threat environment demands that our nation’s public safety agencies better prepare command personnel and first responders to prevent and respond to the next attack," retired Chief Jim Bueermann of the Police Foundation wrote.

Russ Washington, the acting director for the DOJ's Office of Community Oriented Police Services, also commended Mina for the bravery shown by his agency.