Czech police cleared of serious faults over Uherský Brod shooting

Interior Minister Milan Chovanec, Police President Tomáš Tuhý, Michaela Hýbnerová, photo: CTK

Police came in for a lot of criticism in the immediate aftermath of the Uherský Brod shooting in which a gunman shot dead eight before killing himself. The main answers were given on Tuesday when the results of the internal police investigation were revealed.

Interior Minister Milan Chovanec, Police President Tomáš Tuhý, Michaela Hýbnerová, photo: CTK
Many questions were raised about the police response to the worst shooting spree in recent memory in the Czech Republic where eight people were shot dead by a lone gunman in an Uherský Brod pub before he turned the gun on himself.

When the special police squad eventually intervened, the gunman and victims were already dead but one man hidden in the restaurant toilet was freed after an almost three hour ordeal.

Could the first police on the scene have done more? Should the intervention team have got to the scene and acted earlier? Were police communications with the town hall and hidden man adequate? All these questions circulated after February 24 with the spotlight very much on the police force and minister of interior and misgivings voiced whether the right decisions in such an intense and stressful situation were taken.

The answers were given on Tuesday when the results of the independent internal police investigation were made public. The investigation examined all the communications linked with the incident and interviewed those concerned. And the overall verdict was that the police reacted correctly and in line with their rules and responsibilities.

The fundamental fact was that after the initial salvo of shooting when the gunman entered the restaurant police did not know how many hostages he still had or even if there was more than one gunman involved. One of the severely injured women who managed to escape from the scene could not shed light on the situation inside.

Michaela Hýbnerová, photo: CTK
Head of the investigation, Micheala Hybnerová, had this to say about the decision of the first police on the scene to beat a retreat when they came under fire from the gunman inside the building and had no real opportunity to take cover and advance further inside. They saw just one body on the floor, but it was not possible to say if the person was dead or just taking cover from the gunman: “Given the fact that the policemen and women could not continue the action without threatening the lives of those inside the restaurant, they decided to leave the main entrance hall. They immediately called for the support and involvement of other units. We evaluated this action with regard to the law and internal rules and found it that it was in accordance with all the legal measures.”

When communications were later opened up with the gunman, he claimed to have five unhurt hostages he was willing to release if he was given access to a television broadcaster. Police realized they could not intervene to save the man in the toilet without putting him, themselves, and the believed hostages at risk.

So it was only after the line to the gunman went silent and repeated attempts to communicate went unanswered that the special intervention force was finally sent it.

It had taken one hour for the intervention force to arrive by road from Brno but at least two helicopter trips would have been needed to transport the squad and they would not in any case have been able to intervene because hostages lives were still believed to be at risk.

Illustrative photo: Filip Jandourek
And although the police action was vindicated as a whole there were pointers where they could have done better: the investigators suggested that a psychologist could have been brought in to help the man hidden in the toilet endure his ordeal; communications between police and the local town hall and press could have been better, and doubts were expressed about the conduct of one policeman who took command of the scene at one stage.

Moves to increase the overall size of the Czech police force after years of cuts, possibly obtaining bigger helicopters to transport special intervention teams, and improving the current rules on gun permits are now being looked at.