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Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called on state leaders Friday to move around $50 million in the state budget to buy bulletproof shields for school police officers following a mass shooting last month at an elementary school in Uvalde where a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers.
“I am asking the Speaker of the House to join the Senate members of the Legislative Budget Board and me next week in a budget execution letter to move $50 million to either the Governor’s Office or Department of Public Safety (DPS) to begin buying these bulletproof shields as soon as possible so every member of school law enforcement has one,” Patrick said in a statement Friday afternoon. “This will begin the funding necessary to eventually provide bulletproof shields to all law enforcement.”
Patrick’s request would require the approval of House Speaker Dade Phelan and other House members of the state’s Legislative Budget Board. But because lawmakers have already appropriated the money for the two-year budget cycle, it would also require letters from the agencies where the money would be taken certifying that the transfer would not negatively impact their functions.
Patrick said he would send a draft letter Monday and asked Phelan to act quickly. Phelan’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
State Republican leaders have already signed off on two similar transfers worth about $1 billion this year to send money to Gov. Greg Abbott’s costly border security initiative, Operation Lone Star, which was running out of funds. Patrick, who approved those transfers, said the same should be done to provide bulletproof shields to school police officers.
“We have used transfer authority this year to spend billions on the border. We can surely find this amount of money to better protect our kids,” Patrick said, adding that there are “several sources in the current budget that can be tapped to provide this funding.”
Patrick did not name those sources.
During the last of these budget transfers in April, DPS, one of the agencies that Patrick is suggesting should be given money to pay for the bulletproof shields, was forced to relinquish $160 million of its approved budget to keep Operation Lone Star going. Without that transfer, leaders for the Texas Military Department, which has assigned 10,000 service members to the mission, would have been unable to continue the operation.
Patrick said the state should start by providing bulletproof shields to all school police officers and then expand to all law enforcement officers. The state could experience supply-chain issues in obtaining the shields, but it should push to get “every quality shield we can find.”
“This straightforward solution can begin right away,” Patrick said. “If all responding law enforcement had bulletproof shields last week, lives may have been saved.”
Patrick’s plan continues the trend in the state’s Republican leadership of responding to mass shootings by pushing for more teachers to be allowed to use firearms in schools and funding school police. But the law enforcement response to the shooting has been roundly criticized after state and law enforcement officials gave inaccurate information in the initial aftermath of the shooting that has since been debunked.
Police responding to the shooting took more than an hour to engage the gunman who was inside a classroom shooting at children and teachers. The police chief for the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District, Pete Arredondo, determined police were dealing with a “barricaded suspect” and that the children were no longer in danger, state officials said. The leader of DPS later said it was the “wrong decision, period.”
Patrick said that if every police officer in the state had a bulletproof shield, “their ability to respond to an active shooter situation would be greatly enhanced.”
Texas lawmakers have responded in a similar manner in the past. After a gunman with a high-powered rifle ambushed and killed five Dallas police officers in July 2016, state lawmakers responded by allocating $25 million in the state budget for police agencies across the state to buy bullet-resistant vests that could withstand rifle ammunition.
Last session, after two DPS troopers were fatally shot through a windshield in their patrol car, lawmakers agreed to foot the bill to bulletproof windshields in DPS patrol cars, Patrick said.
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