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In the weeks since Uvalde officers waited more than an hour to confront a gunman who killed 19 children and two adults at an elementary school, police departments across the state have been grappling. a crucial question: if they were faced with a similar situation, would they be able to quickly stop the shooter?
Footage of parents and students begging officers to take action at Robb Elementary School on May 24 before a tactical team of federal agents finally broke into a classroom and shot and killed the 18-year-old shooter. years deeply disturbed Marfa Police Chief Estevan Marquez.
“I keep telling my officers, ‘I never want to have to go through this,'” Marquez said. “‘I don’t want you standing there when innocent children are being shot at in school, in the classroom.’
Texas police departments now find themselves trying to reassure communities that their officers are ready to handle mass shooters — and reminding officers of their training. Since the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado left 12 students and a teacher dead, active shooter training requires officers to confront shooters immediately, even if an officer is alone on the scene.
Active shooter training is part of the basic state curriculum for officers when they receive basic training. The state also requires police officers stationed at schools to receive active shooter training – a mandate that has only been in place since 2019. But there is no agreed standard or state requirement as to how often an officer should train for an active shooter.
Police officials and law enforcement experts also admit a harsh reality: no matter what their training, there is no guarantee that officers will complete their training and confront a shooter at the crucial moment.
Donna Police Chief Gilbert Guerrero, who oversees a force of 30 patrol officers in a border town of some 16,000, said he told his officers they should consider changing jobs if they were “unwilling to make this sacrifice” by confronting a gunman. and at the risk of their lives.
“It depends on the courage and the state of mind of each officer if he can do it,” Guerrero said.
This week, Governor Greg Abbott led the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training program at Texas State University in San Marcos — a program considered the national gold standard for active shooter training — to place school district police officers of Texas on the front line for additional training — and to provide training before the start of the next school year this fall.
The program, known as ALERRT, was founded three years after the Columbine massacre. It trains officers across the country to deal with mass shooters and has already seen an increase in requests for active shooter training following the Uvalde shooting, said Pete Blair, executive director of ALERRT.
Abbott did not say whether the program would receive additional state funding to train more school police officers. His office did not immediately return a request for comment.
The goal of active shooter training is “to increase the likelihood that you’ll do well during a crisis,” Blair said, adding that the more trained an officer is, the better prepared they’ll be to deal with a rampaging shooter.
“The hope is, even if initially it’s a shock to you and you freeze up, you fall back on your training,” Blair said. “The best we can do is give you some training to try to prepare you mentally and physically for the situation.”
At the same time, Blair said, training “does not guarantee” officers will perform well when under fire.
“Only a lot of time and money”
After the Uvalde shooting, police departments told the Texas Tribune that they plan to do more active shooter training. For example, the Dallas Police Department said in a statement that additional training “will take place not only in our schools, but also in critical infrastructure like shopping malls, places of worship and movie theaters.”
In the absence of any state requirement for how often Texas officers undergo active shooter training, ALERRT is considering recommending that they train every two years, Blair said.
Although ALERRT offers free active shooter training to officers anywhere in the country, many small departments do not have the resources to continuously train active shooters like large urban departments can, said Jimmy Perdue, head of the Texas Police Chiefs Association.
Departments must find agents to cover the shifts of those in training and pay for costs such as travel, accommodation and meals if the training is not taking place nearby – which can be more difficult for the smaller departments with fewer officers and thinner budgets, Perdue said.
“It doesn’t make them less professional, it doesn’t make them less prepared,” Perdue said. “It just means they may not have the capacity to do it at the levels we expect in major urban centers.”
Otherwise, the department holds drills for active shooters twice a year, Marquez said, and it’s possible it could add a third training session.
In the meantime, the department is looking at ways to bolster its inventory of tactical gear, Marquez said. Marfa police have bulletproof vests and rifle-resistant armor the force received through grants that would come in handy when they encounter a shooter, Marquez said, but the agency still needs equipment like helmets and shields and may need to make cuts elsewhere in their budget to allow for this.
Something else that worries Marquez in the event of a mass shooting: Marfa has an ambulance, and the nearest hospital is 30 minutes away in Alpine.
Police departments must balance preparing mass shooters with other requirements, experts said. They must also train in areas such as de-escalation tactics and spotting human traffickers while maintaining enough personnel to carry out their regular patrol work. Although mass shootings are more common in the United States than in other parts of the world, they are still quite rare and only represent a small percentage of crimes involving firearms.
“There’s so much time and money involved that it makes sense for an individual agency to invest in something,” said Phillip Lyons, dean of Sam Houston State University’s College of Criminal Justice. “This is a very high consequence event, but it has an extremely low probability of occurring for the vast majority of agencies. So, with precious and limited resources, what do we invest them in?”
Disclosure: Texas State University and Sam Houston State University financially supported The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the journalism of the Tribune. Find a full list here.
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