By Maria Luisa Cesar
San Antonio Express-News
BEXAR COUNTY, Texas — They'll still rely on city and county law enforcement in a worst-case scenario, but upgrades in police training and weaponry have improved the confidence of several local school districts in their ability to respond to a school shooting.
In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., more than a year ago, virtually all of them have beefed up campus fences, doors, locks and cameras.
Their police departments have developed unprecedented partnerships with local law enforcement agencies. Many have added officers and upgraded their training, emphasizing "active shooter" drills.
And some have sought Special Weapons and Tactics or SWAT training, including Judson Independent School District, which recently announced four of its 20 police officers now are "SWAT certified" and can act as an emergency response team in the event of a crisis.
But Judson officials have since backed away from that term, since the state agency governing police licensing and training doesn't bestow it on those who pass its basic SWAT course. And though Judson billed its team as the first of its kind in Bexar County, most districts have some version of an emergency response team and a handful also have SWAT training.
"I think you'll find specially trained police officers in most school districts," Northside ISD spokesman Pascual Gonzalez said in an email. "I think it's an evolving realization from parents and staff that school districts have these police forces."
The national picture is more diverse, said Mo Canady, executive director of the National School Resource Officers. Some school systems don't have internal police departments and depend on local law enforcement agencies for physical security. Those with their own police departments have bulked up on active shooter training and weapons.
"At the end of the day, every community is going to have to make their own decision in terms of how far they go in school security," Canady said. "I think Texas is probably a state that will be a little more aggressive in terms of school safety measures -- that doesn't come as a surprise to me."
Like other districts with SWAT-trained officers, Judson officials noted they can't be compared to big-city police and sheriff's SWAT teams. But they provide an edge, JISD Police Chief Teresa Ramon said, adding: "Because seconds count, our guys are going in first."
The training provides a new layer of security and response, not because the district has had any recent security concerns but because "it is a proactive step to protect our most important assets: children and staff," she said.
Northside ISD Police Chief Charles Carnes said he's relying on the SWAT teams maintained by the San Antonio Police Department and Bexar County Sheriff's Office, though several of his officers received SWAT training before they joined his department and lauded the additional training Judson police officers are receiving.
"We decided a long time ago that this is the direction that we're going to go to protect our students and feel quite comfortable about the resources from SAPD and the county, " he said. "We can focus on other things that we should be doing."
The SAPD has been acquiring the floor plans for all San Antonio schools, Police Chief William McManus has said.
Judson ISD is working with the Bexar County Sheriff's Office and the private company Global Priority Security Training Facility to provide monthly SWAT training to its team of four officers. Judson officials declined to say how much it costs, though Ramon said some of the training sessions are free.
Chris Grollnek, an active shooter training expert whose security consulting firm works with about 100 school districts and university systems across the nation, said there's one thing more important than police training.
Schools, he said, "are learning that they need to train their ... students on what to do more than they need to train their police on what to do."
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