What took so long with the Sandy Hook Report

By The Hartford Courant

It’s outrageous that it has taken Connecticut State Police five years to release their “after-action report” on the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. For some time, state police have been sharing what they learned from the tragedy with colleagues around the country. So why did everyone else have to wait? This is a dereliction of the duty that state police owed to the people of Connecticut.

The report, released Friday afternoon, makes such unsurprising recommendations as setting up the command post outside the crime scene so that “dignitaries” and other visitors don’t trample on evidence. It suggests that police clearly identify themselves so they’re not accidentally shot by other police. It says the state should “consider mandatory counseling for … detectives and other CSP personnel who deal with traumatic situations on a regular basis.”

This is helpful, but it took five years to say?

An after-action report is a debriefing that helps police understand what happened and how they can better prepare for future horrors. A state police manual says such reports should go to the commissioner within a week of a public safety emergency. By that measure, this report is at least 260 weeks late. A week would, of course, be not nearly enough time for a report of this consequence. But five years?

Even the Warren Commission, which investigated another unimaginable tragedy — President Kennedy’s assassination — took less than a year. So did the after-action report on the 2014 mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard that killed a dozen people. The report on the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing took 18 months. What could possibly have taken Connecticut State Police so long?

Here’s a clue: Sources have told The Courant’s Dave Altimari that a preliminary report was more critical of command staff than the one released Friday, but police brass wanted that early report revised. That report’s whereabouts are now a mystery.

State police blame the final report’s delay in part on “limited resources and the attrition of several of the personnel working on this project.” That does not wash. The murders of 20 first-graders and six women shocked the nation. President Obama called it “the worst day of my presidency.” It is still commonly cited as a grisly benchmark in atrocities in the United States. Surely the definitive report on what state police did right and wrong at Sandy Hook Elementary School deserved greater priority, at the very least so that Connecticut could prepare for the next shooting.

Given that an elementary school massacre was nearly inconceivable in the U.S. at the time, it’s not surprising that local and state police botched some things. For example, a parent was mistakenly identified as a suspect. (“Distinguish between potential threats and civilians,” the report recommends.) Also, a command post at the school wasn’t swept thoroughly, and so another sweep had to be done when two employees who had been hiding there emerged.

What was most agonizing was that families had to wait hours in a room to learn their loved ones had died from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. “Appropriate and respectful death notifications should be made as soon as possible and made by someone with training and expertise in this area,” the report says.

The recommendations are all wise. But the report’s protracted delay can’t help but raise the question about whether this document is telling the whole story.

By The Hartford Courant