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Experts say campus police need yearly active shooter training

The KVUE Defenders look at whether school district law enforcement are prepared to protect our schools and whether there are enough of them to cover school campuses.

AUSTIN, Texas — Parents want to know their child is protected 

In May, a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers inside Robb Elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. Despite their training to confront an active shooter, law enforcement stayed back. The shooter continued to kill inside the classroom. Police waited down the hallway for more than an hour.  Federal agents finally entered the classroom and killed the gunman.

Safety concerns echoed across the state.

“We want all of our students to come to school and feel safe,” said Wayne Sneed with the Austin ISD Police Department.

Sneed said AISD police investigated more than 200 threats last year alone.

“It's very difficult to learn if you're constantly worried about your safety,” Sneed said.

The KVUE Defenders questioned the 20 largest districts around the Austin area. A dozen school districts have their own police department. Some smaller districts have 10 or fewer police, including  Hutto ISD,  Manor ISD, Lake Travis ISD, Harper ISD and Llano ISD. The largest district, Austin ISD, has 76 officers

“Our officers and our administration are very, very clear on the expectation, should we have an incident similar to that and we're prepared to handle it,” said Andy Michael, chief of police for Lake Travis ISD.

The district created its own police department last year. Michael and six other officers cover their 11 campuses.

“We do the best we can. I mean, I'm not going to talk about exact rotation patterns, but we do try to rotate the best we can, make sure the secondaries have a lot of coverage, and make sure the elementary schools get covered as well so we can check on those campuses,” Michael said.

“The first message we want to make sure that we give to our new scholars and to parents is that our schools are safe,” added Andre Spencer, superintendent for Manor ISD.

Spencer has eight officers with Manor ISD police. The district created the police department two years ago.

“We've also hired additional school resource officers and we're also hiring additional security officers to make sure that our schools are 100% safe and secure,” Spencer said.

School resource officers, or SROs, may add additional policing to a district or maybe the entire police force. SROs are sworn peace officers, usually from a local police department or sheriff’s office, and permanently assigned to a school district.

Leander ISD, Hays CISD, Georgetown ISD, Lockhart ISD, and Burnet CISD have only SROs.

“It takes a specifically well-trained officer,” said Lynelle Sparks, executive director with the Texas Association of School Resource Officers.

Sparks started working as an SRO 15 years ago.

“So now I'm the officer of the kids’ kids,” Sparks said. 

TASRO recommends at least one officer per campus. Bastrop ISD and Harper ISD police departments are the only Central Texas districts with that.

“I think a lot of times people don't understand what we do as a school resource officer. We're not just arresting kids. We're really building relationships. You're with that student until they graduate,” Sparks said.

No other districts, including those with police departments and SROs, have enough law enforcement for one officer per campus.

“Depending on the size of your district and a lot of things that go into that, that may not be possible,” Sparks said.

Texas lawmakers mandated schools to have an active shooter response policy in place by the 2020-21 school year.

All law enforcement for a district with more than 30,000 students were required to have active-shooter training. The training must be approved by the State. State lawmakers put those active shooter plans under a microscope.

“Officers are likely to get hurt and some may die, but it's less likely that they would then then children without the armor, without the weapons, without the training,” said Steven McCraw, Department of Public Safety director, in a Senate hearing.

We pulled state training records. They show that most Central Texas school districts with their own police departments use Texas State University’s Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT), a nationally-recognized active shooter/attack response program. Police learn how to isolate, distract and stop an attack.

Uvalde ISD police had this training. ALERRT documents show the police response in Uvalde did not follow ALERRT training when it was needed.

“The only thing stopping a hallway of dedicated officers from ending Room 111 and 112 was the on-scene commander who decided to place the lives of officers before the lives of children," McCraw said.

Although Texas law requires all campus cops to have active shooter training, it's only a one time requirement – not yearly. 

“That would be important, refreshing those skills, making sure that you're ready all of the time,” Sparks said.

It would take an act from the legislature to make it happen.

“Crises are going to happen. But I feel like we have a great program in place to manage any crises that come,” Sneed said.

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