Did SWAT Wait Too Long to Storm the Orlando Nightclub?

Did SWAT Wait Too Long to Storm the Orlando Nightclub?
File photo by Marc Cooper/Flickr

It took nearly three hours for cops to storm Orlando nightclub Pulse and take out America's worst mass shooter. After the dust cleared, 50 were dead, including the suspect.

Was the long wait a mistake?

The Los Angeles Police Department invented the SWAT team in 1967. So we asked Scott Reitz, a retired LAPD SWAT team firearms and tactics instructor, what he thought of the response in Orlando.

He said that, given what's known about the violence early Sunday, local cops probably made the right move.

Reitz said if no shots were being fired between the time SWAT arrived and the time they stormed the building by using an armored vehicle to punch holes in an outside wall, then that's a proper tactic.

Omar Mateen shot it out with an off-duty cop working outside the club and possibly with a few other officers who were the first responders shortly after 2 a.m., police said.  Then he went inside and opened fire. The shooter was armed with an AR-15-style assault rifle, a handgun and possibly an explosive device.

"The incident then turned into a hostage situation," Orlando police said in a statement.

Mateen reportedly called 911 at least once, with police then phoning him back. The former LAPD cop told us that police negotiators on the phone probably were trying to get him to come out with his hands up.

"The train of thought is, if he's calling maybe we can negotiate," Reitz said. "Maybe we can get him to surrender. If you waited and he didn't kill more people, it was the right call."

He said that if the gunman continued firing during the standoff, "You have to go in." 

Otherwise, he said, the lack of gunfire gives police time to save lives. 

The retired officer and private tactics trainer, who has worked with U.S. Army Delta and the U.S. Navy's famed SEAL Team 6, said that if you asked the parents of those inside whether to wait and negotiate or go in guns blazing, many if not most would say wait.

Indeed, it was reported that the 29-year-old suspect might have had an explosive device on his person. And it wasn't clear if the place was boobytrapped.

"If an individual goes in and rigs the place with explosives, and you breach it, everybody gets blown to bits," Reitz said. "You inadvertently set off an IED."

After the club was breached Sunday at 5 a.m., Mateen emerged and multiple SWAT team members exchanged gunfire, taking him out, police said.

"At 5 a.m., the decision was made to breach the club and rescue the hostages," the Orlando department stated. "Officers were able to rescue 30 hostages and lead them to safety. Our SWAT officers exchanged gunfire with the suspect, killing him."

Tactics trainer Chris Grollnek, who served on a SWAT team in McKinney, Texas, told the New York Daily News that the police response in Orlando "was a catastrophic failure."

"Police are trained that if there's an active shooter in progress, you go in and confront the shooter at any risk," he said. "When an active shooter is shooting, you go in and shoot the shooter."

But Reitz believes that Mateen had stopped shooting — and that the cops in Orlando ultimately saved lives.

"It really brings home the reality of what it is we have to deal with on a daily basis," he said. "These are very tough decisions."


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