The veteran Special Weapons and Tactics Team commander also explained the Beeville Police Department’s plans for dealing with an “active shooter” scenario at any of the local schools.
Cantu showed those attending the session a series of videos that covered school shooting sprees, starting with the Aug. 1, 1966, shooting by Charles Whitman.
The assailant killed 14 individuals and wounded dozens more before officers made their way to the 28th floor observation deck of the University of Texas Tower and shot him to death.
Cantu explained how the 1999 killing spree at Columbine changed the way police departments across the country were trained to respond to “active shooter” situations.
He said that in that event, the two shooters had 45 minutes of free rein while law enforcement officers gathered outside the school in Littleton, Colo., and decided how to enter the building.
Twelve students and one teacher were killed, and 21 were injured during that time.
“It’s why we are being trained to go into the school,” Cantu said.
These days, trained tactical officers will enter a building immediately and take out the shooter or shooters.
The detective told those at the meeting that when the first officers enter a building where an active shooter is located, “we aren’t there to evacuate out the injured.”
He said the first officers will have one job – to stop the shooters.
He assured the teachers and staff that most officers working the day shift at the Beeville Police Department have tactical training and they would be the first ones to respond to a shooting incident at any of the local schools.
Cantu warned that shooting incidents do not always happen on school campuses. He showed a video of a man walking into a school board meeting with a pistol in his hand and firing at board members before a security guard shot and killed him.
When one of those attending the session asked Cantu about his opinion of arming teachers, the officer responded, “I’m 50-50.”
He said he thought anyone who carries a gun on a school campus should be well trained.
Principal Jaime Rodriguez said one way to arm teachers on campus could be to keep handguns in lock boxes to which certain, trained teachers have the only access.
Rodriguez said having more off-duty police officers on campuses for security would be a good idea. But he said the problem with that is that the officers do not always show up for their duty.
“They come on their days off, and everybody wants to have their days off,” Rodriguez said.
Others suggested arming teachers with non-lethal alternatives like pepper spray, tasers or even wasp spray, which can shoot a stream up to 20 feet.
Teachers also suggested other methods for dealing with a campus shooter until police could get to the scene. Some teachers even supported arming and training selected faculty members.
Cantu pointed out that law enforcement instructors on campus have considerable training and could be armed.
One of those was former BPD Detective Roland Rodriguez, who trained for years with the department’s SWAT officers.
“We just have to have a plan,” the former SWAT officer told those in the room. He said that as long as an active shooter is alive, they are just going to keep killing people.
“Beeville is not a large city,” Cantu said. “You can get to almost any place in seven to 10 minutes.”
Cantu said awareness is one of the best ways to stop an active shooter situation quickly.
“If you see a suspicious person, pick up the phone,” the detective said. “We’ll check them out.”
Cantu suggested that everyone on every campus watch for someone in the school parking lot or someone who appears to be circling the campus.
The officer also agreed with one teacher who suggested that a plan for the school staff would be useful.
When another teacher reminded those in the room that the JHS campus is wide open on the east side, Rodriguez said the Beeville Independent School District is already working on providing some security fencing in that location.
Cantu ended his presentation with a video entitled “Run, Hide, Fight, Surviving an Active Shooter Event.”
The six-minute video was published in July of last year, and it provides tips on how to deal with the situation when one hears a shooting in the workplace.
“Always try to escape,” the announcer in the video said.
If it is impossible to get to safety, turn out lights, lock or block doors, turn off cellular phones and remain quiet.
If that fails, intended victims must arm themselves with anything that can be used as a weapon and act aggressively.
The video suggested that everyone remain aware of the environment and have an evacuation plan.
When police arrive, it is important to have one’s hands visible.
Cantu said he teaches women’s self-defense classes, and everyone needs to be aware that a lot of items can be used as weapons. That includes glasses, men’s belts, keys and knives.
“If nothing else, just run,” Cantu said. “Get your students out of there. If you hear shooting, don’t go and investigate. Get out of there and call 911.”
Cantu said teachers and students should break out classroom windows and escape. “With training, we can stop some of these threats.”
Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.