UVALDE, Texas – The stuttered and calamitous police response to the Robb Elementary School shooting stunned the entire country and prompted lawmakers to address gaps in police training and response to school shootings. Lawmakers recently passed several laws that add training requirements for officers and call for better coordination in rural counties.
“There’s no excuse for a 77-minute delay and I think everybody knows that,” said Bill Avera, president of the Texas School District Police Chiefs’ Association. “We can only, at this point, get better. There is no way we could ever regress to what we had.”
The biggest piece of legislation to follow the mass shooting in Uvalde is House Bill 3. This bill calls for numerous changes, including requiring school districts to have armed security on every campus. The bill does allow for “good cause exceptions” to be approved by local school boards in districts where placing armed security on every campus is not feasible.
House Bill 3 also calls for every school district police officer or school resource officer to undergo active shooter response training at least once every four years. The bill also requires the sheriff of a county with a population under 350,000 to hold semi-annual meetings to discuss school safety, coordinate law enforcement response to school violence incidents and chain of command planning.
Out of 254 counties in Texas, only 17 have a population above 350,000. This part of the law came from seeing 376 officers from 23 agencies respond to Robb Elementary, yet none had trained together for an active shooter response or planned a coordinated response to such an attack.
Senate Bill 999 ensures all companies providing “Active Shooter Response for School-Based Law Enforcement” will be certified by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement. This bill ensures all such training at schools across Texas is state-approved.
Senate Bill 1852 adds also 16 hours of active shooter training to the basic peace officer training course and requires all officers in Texas to get this training once every two years as part of their continuing education requirement.
“We cannot afford to have another one of these and so with everything the legislature gave us this time, I think we’re further along than we were even after Santa Fe,” said Avera, who is also the chief of police and emergency manager for Jacksonville Independent School District.
Uvalde also showed training isn’t enough-- someone has to take charge of the crush of law enforcement that responds to a school shooting.
“We need to identify who’s coming, what their capabilities are, what their response time is,” said Mike Matranga, CEO of M6 Global Defense. “Then we need to set aside our egos and our personalities and understand that, listen, if you can’t get to an active shooting event within a five-minute time period, then you become a secondary responder.”
Matranga is a retired US Secret Service agent and former head of Texas City ISD’s security. Matranga’s company now works with school districts to develop emergency response plans, including active shooter response. He said incident command is crucial in managing what he calls “self-dispatch,” which happens when officers anywhere in the vicinity of an active shooter race to the scene, whether called or not.
“If you’ve got 15 guns pointed down range and you’ve got a shooter contained, you don’t need 16 to 376. Those individuals need to be helping and assisting, providing secondary response,” said Matranga.
Harris County Sheriff’s Office Senior Deputy Chris Wells said his position was created after Uvalde. Wells, who is HCSO’s active attack coordinator, agrees setting up incident command quickly is crucial to managing the varied resources responding to an active shooter.
“We know we’ve got to stop the killing, but then we’ve got to stop the dying portion of it and part of that ‘stop the dying’ is rapid casualty evacuation,” said Wells. “You have hundreds of cops coming, hundreds of firemen coming and we’ve got to figure out how to control them.”
Wells said this effort is two-fold; one, the sheriff’s office is ramping up training events that include several agencies and school districts.
“Our scenarios are not us at the sheriff’s office, we know we can’t fix the problem by ourselves,” said Wells.
Two is making sure everyone from the street to the top brass is getting incident management training.
“We empower our deputies, whether it’s the guy that’s been on the streets for a week or the supervisor out there for 10, 15 years to take control of that scene very, very quickly,” said Wells.
Houston police said this type of incident management training is also now going down to the sergeant level. HPD Asst. Chief Thomas Hardin is over HPD’s Homeland Security Command and said a new level of training has also been added-- training that involves what happens after a shooter is stopped.
“What do you do with injured parties? What do you do with setting up a command post? How do you have an integrated command post with your fire partners?” asked Hardin.
Hardin is referring to the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training called Active Attack Integrated Response, AAIR. ALERRT defines this “train-the-trainer” course as “a performance level course designed to improve integration between law enforcement, fire, telecommunicator and emergency medical services (EMS) in active attack/shooter events.”
Hardin said HPD has several officers certified to give this training to smaller, surrounding departments.
“Make sure that we’re all on the same sheet of music on the way we respond, the tactics we use, the verbiage,” said Hardin.