As the retired Chief of Police of the Redlands (California) Police Department, I understand the impact critical, high-profile incidents have on a community and a police department. The terrorist attack in the City of San Bernardino on December 2, 2015, was unlike anything I experienced during my 33 years in the Redlands Police Department. On that day, the city of San Bernardino was the site of the world’s most recent terrorist attack—and the first on American soil since the bombings at the Boston Marathon in 2013.
Two individuals opened fire indiscriminately—shooting 36 (killing 14 and injuring 22) innocent people—as part of a vicious and premeditated terrorist attack at the Inland Regional Center before escaping and then returning to San Bernardino to engage in a final shootout that ended their lives.
The challenges confronting the principal public safety agencies that responded to this attack were monumental: three crime scenes; multiple local, state, and federal agencies arriving with sometimes overlapping roles and responsibilities; hundreds of victims and witnesses; differing policies and practices, different organizational cultures, using different communications systems and protocols; and a nation and world watching and waiting for answers. The fluidity of every aspect of the attack and its aftermath required decisions to be made on the spot, in less than opportune situations, with the media—and social media—broadcasting every move in real time.
Bringing new advances to policing lies at the core of the Police Foundation’s mission. Central to our research and work with law enforcement agencies is the idea that it is imperative to examine, analyze, and learn from police-involved critical incidents in an effort to continually improve. Certainly, that is true of this incident.
Those who responded on that day did so with the utmost bravery and dedication, and their well-trained and disciplined actions undoubtedly saved lives. It is because of the efforts of all involved in the response on December 2, 2015 that there were not more victims and that the two terrorists were killed before they could inflict more damage and devastation. In fact, many of the lessons learned in this report are based on policies, procedures, and protocols that responding agencies followed on that day. This review is not meant to assign fault to any individual or agency where improvements are suggested but to apply lessons to enhance the safety of first responders and the public at large and to further aide in bringing calm to chaos.
I am grateful to San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan and the professionals at the San Bernardino Police Department and to San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon and the professionals at the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department for their cooperation. Not only were they willing to answer our questions, provide us access to their departments and information, and provide us unwavering support but they also invited our team and our investigation into the response to these attacks in an effort to help advance policing and specifically the response to terrorist attacks.
It is extremely important to acknowledge the dedication and professionalism of the many law enforcement and first responder agencies involved in this incident. In addition to the San Bernardino Police Department and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, the Redlands Police Department, San Bernardino County Probation, Inland Valley Regional SWAT, San Bernardino City Unified School District, Ontario Fire Department, San Bernardino City Fire Department, Inland Counties Emergency Medical Agency, California Highway Patrol, Fontana Police Department, Colton Police Department, Rialto Police Department, San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office, FBI, ATF, DHS all performed their duties valiantly.
In addition, I am extremely grateful to the hundreds of commanders, supervisors, detectives, officers, deputies, other first responders, and victims and witnesses who generously gave us their time. They answered all questions candidly, and I am forever thankful for their willingness to relive their stress and heartbreak through the retelling of their experiences and the rehashing of traumatizing moments. It was only through their eyes that we were able to gain a true understanding of the complexities involved throughout that fateful day.
I would like to express my gratitude for the hard work of our review team: Sheriff Rod Hoops (ret.), Chief Rick Braziel (ret.), Chief Frank Straub (ret.), PhD, and George Watson. In addition, I would like to thank our Police Foundation staff, including Program Director Jennifer Zeunik for driving the activities of this effort as well as Blake Norton, James Burch, Ben Gorban, Rebecca Benson, Joyce Iwashita, and Maria Valdovinos. They worked tirelessly to present this critical incident review in a compelling and useful manner.
Finally, this review is dedicated to the victims and families of the victims affected by this terrible attack and to victims of terrorism worldwide. It is offered in memory of Robert Adams, Isaac Amanios, Bennetta Bet-Badal, Harry Bowman, Sierra Clayborn, Juan Espinoza, Aurora Godoy, Shannon Johnson, Larry Daniel Kaufman, Damian Meins, Tin Nguyen, Nicholas Thalasinos, Yvette Velasco, and Michael Wetzel. May we remember them and honor them by diligently applying the lessons learned.
Chief Jim Bueermann (ret.)