Czech police say response to Dec. 21 shooting was adequate, but communication flawed

At a press conference today, officials reviewed police response to the December mass shooting at Charles University. Staff

Written by Staff Published on 09.01.2024 17:11:46 (updated on 09.01.2024) Reading time: 3 minutes

Czech police held a conference this afternoon to explain, review, and debrief the public on their response to a shooting on Dec. 21 at Charles University’s Faculty of Arts in Prague, which saw 15 people – including the perpetrator – dead and dozens injured.

There has been some criticism, particularly on social media, of how the police reacted to the shooting – including claims that the police could have prevented the shooter from entering the building if they had acted sooner.

Police: Response good, but communication flawed

Police say that an internal check found no mistake in the police’s reaction and response to the shooter, and a senior officer told the media that “the intervention against the shooter was active, fast, and professional.” 

However, Prague police chief Martin Vondrášek admitted that the police should have instantly communicated with the management of the faculty after being notified of the shooting. He said that the police must improve their crisis communication in the future.

Police chief: This is ‘our nightmare’

Vondrášek opened the conference by saying: “The police are very well aware of our responsibility to the public, but especially to the families of the murdered and injured victims.” The chief also pointed out that the killer had no prior criminal record and was a lone wolf – a "nightmare" for the police.

He emphasized the importance of maintaining an open dialogue with the media and public as further details about the shooting arise. Vondrášek also urged the media to distinguish between the information available to police officers during the day of the shooting and what is known with the benefit of hindsight when making judgments.

Head of the Internal Control Office of the Police Michal Tikovský said that the police first began tracking the man at around midday on Dec. 21 in the Central Bohemian village of Hostouň, where he had shot dead his father around the late morning. The man had texted his mother that he was traveling to Prague to take his own life.

Police tracked man before shooting began

The murderer then turned off his mobile phone, only turning it back on at 2:38 p.m., when he was near Prague 1’s Pařížská Street. When receiving alerts of the shooting (at just before 3 p.m.), Tikovský told journalists that “the procedure of the police was not lax or negligent.”

Presenting a video of police storming the Arts Faculty building, Tikovský said it took around four minutes between the first call of alert after the first shots were fired and police entering the building.

Similarly, during his speech, Prague police chief Petr Matějček denied that the police had “failed fatally” during the intervention. Matějček said that the police had actively been looking for the man – based on GPS signals from his phone – around Old Town Square even before the shooting started. The police pointed out that a review by the Police Headquarters' Internal Audit Office found no serious wrongdoing in the police’s response on Dec. 21.

Guns were legal, police want new weapons registry

The police confirmed that the shooter’s large amount of firearms was legal – authorities are currently investigating how he was able to acquire the guns.

“We are working with the version that he took out a loan for them,” said one police representative. Earlier media reports highlighted that the shooter had been receiving treatment for psychological issues.

Vondrášek also said that the task of the police now is to create a new central register of weapons. "We want to monitor the suspicious movement of weapons and ammunition," he commented. According to him, the current database is 10 years old and has some incorrect information.

Suicide letters and the forest murder

Police also say the shooter wrote two suicide letters – one was at the home of the shooter’s murdered father and one the other with him when the killer committed suicide at the faculty building. Police are unable yet to reveal their exact contents. Deputy director of the Prague police Vojtěch Motyka said that the killer’s motive was “still under investigation.” 

Motyka also confirmed that the killer was behind the earlier double homicide in Pargue’s Klánovice forest that killed a father and his young daughter. The police officer emphasized this was a random attack and there was no relationship between the shooter and the forest victims.

The police said they have investigated around 165 cases linked to statements made by people on social networks that endorsed the killer’s actions or expressed a desire to emulate the shooter. Almost 100 have led to criminal proceedings. 

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