Vargas: Six observations about the response to the San Bernardino mass shooting


I was saddened and angered by the tragic shootings Wednesday at the San Bernardino Inland Regional Center.

What we now know is two well-prepared and well-armed individuals entered the center with the intent to commit as much harm as possible. The encounter lasted only minutes with the suspects fleeing.

According to San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan, it was only four minutes after the first call that police units arrived, narrowly missing the fleeing suspects.

In a massive police response the SBPD and assisting agencies immediately contained the area, searched for suspects and rendered aid to those wounded. In the end it is estimated there were approximately 300 officers from local, state and federal agencies who answered the call for help.

Investigators quickly followed up leads and eventually tracked down the suspects. This led to a police pursuit and eventually a shooting that resembled a firefight. Both suspects were killed.

Fourteen innocent people lost their lives and another 21 were injured.

The suspects were heavily armed with rifles, handguns and a considerable amount of ammunition. According to police, the suspects fired approximately 76 rifle rounds at officers. Officers responded with approximately 380 rounds.

I feel for the officers who must be physically and emotionally exhausted, but are working around the clock to protect the community – and search for answers.

From the moments the events began to unfold I started following on television, the Internet and social media.

I was frustrated with much of the inept and ill-informed reporting taking place. Field reporters and anchors filled the airways with benign conversation and at times just plain dumb speculation.

The police department public-information officer and police chief, by contrast, did an outstanding job of trying to provide information in a very fluid and ongoing event.

Here are six observations:

1. The preparation paid off

Years of preparation and training for a worst-case scenario has reaped benefits.

Officers responded amazingly well. The tactics were sound and responding officers were properly equipped to engage the suspects. (The militarization critics need to get over it. This incident illustrated how armored vehicles can protect police officers and the public).

2. Media can do better

The media should take a hard look at its response. There continues to be too much speculation. One news site misidentified the suspect and posted a picture of a Corona resident not associated with the incident. The site has since apologized for its mistake, but the damage was done.

3. Social media can be dangerous in events such as these

The response by some on social media was overwhelming and often reckless. Garnering information from police radio traffic, some people tracked down suspect information and filled gaps in information with speculation. Critical information was posted even as officers were trying to lock down locations and track down the suspects. Confidential information was being posted faster than officers could deploy. This made it dangerous for the public and responding officers. This is an argument for police departments to use encrypted frequencies.

4. See something, say something

There is a need for people to become acclimated to “See something, say something.” Political correctness or fear of being overly suspicious can cost people their lives. Neighbors of the suspects reportedly felt something was wrong but didn’t want to appear to be stereotyping. Better safe than sorry.

5. Public prep for active shooters

We have to do more to educate the public in how to respond to active shooters. Many of us remember the duck and cover drills from grade school. As recent events have so clearly demonstrated this is just the world we live in now. It’s time to start training as early as elementary school. Run, hide, fight.

6. Cops are heroes

Lastly the behavior and actions of the first responders was downright heroic and worthy of commendation. Over and over again you could see officers exposing themselves to harm to rescue people and to engage potential suspects. It was best summed up in a video captured by an employee of the center.

A sheriff’s deputy was caught on video leading a group of employees out of the center and reassures them saying, “I’ll take a bullet before you.”

I’m certain every one of the 300 law enforcement officers who responded would have done the same.

Joe is a retired Anaheim Police Department captain. You can reach him at