Cantu, Beeville Police Department’s Special Weapons and Tactics Team commander, said anyone who starts shooting in a school here will be facing well-armed patrol officers in less than three minutes.
Not long after that an eight-man SWAT team will be moving quickly through the school.
Police Chief Joe Treviño said the first officer to respond to an active shooter would immediately go toward the sound of the gunfire.
“In an active shooter situation we don’t have time to wait for SWAT,” said Sheriff Carlos Carrizales Jr.
“We don’t say ‘Halt, police’; we just stop the threat,” said Lt. Ronnie Jones.
Jones, the SWAT commander for the Bee County Sheriff’s Office, said that as soon as a deputy recognizes the threat in an active shooter situation, he is trained to shoot the threat. There is no chance to surrender.
The first officer at the scene will go in with a .223 carbine or a shotgun and that will be used immediately to take down the threat.
“We realize the shooter has already got it in his mind that he’s going to die,” Carrizales said. “It’s dangerous to try to reason with him.”
If the shooter realizes officers are on the scene and tries to hide, that will not work.
Within 20 minutes, two entire eight-man SWAT teams, one team from each local agency, could be at the school searching for the shooter.
Today law enforcement agencies are trained to use a rapid response tactic called “dynamic entry.”
The procedure changed across the nation after the shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, where police stayed outside the school for some time, allowing the shooters to continue killing.
Treviño said the BPD could have SWAT officers on the scene just seconds after the first officers arrive.
Five of the BPD’s eight, highly trained SWAT officers work during the day and could be at any campus in the city almost as quickly as the first officer to respond. A shooting scene could be secured quickly in exactly the same way deputies would handle the situation.
“We don’t wait. We go straight to the shooter,” Cantu said.
But if the shooter has not been taken out when the SWAT team arrives, he will not last long.
SWAT team members are equipped with ballistic vests, Kevlar helmets and lights and laser sights on their M4 carbines and shotguns. The active shooter will not stand a chance.
Police have more to their advantage than weapons and protective gear.
“We have blueprints of every school building in the county,” Treviño said.
Carrizales said deputies also have the blueprints and the BCSO SWAT officers have trained with the BPD officers in most of the school campuses.
“We know the layout,” Cantu said. SWAT officers know all the hiding places at each campus. Officers can surround the campus to prevent an escape and they know exactly where a shooter is most likely to hide.
“I want to assure the community that our SWAT officers are highly trained and motivated,” Treviño said.
“They train constantly and we try to invest in the latest equipment,” the chief said. “Whatever they ask for, I try to get it for them.”
Cantu said the training does not stop at school campuses. Local officers also train to stop a threat in buses, in cars and in other scenarios.
“Hopefully, we’ll never have to use those tactics, but if we do, we’re ready,” the lieutenant said.
Treviño and Carrizales said that every one of their officers or deputies has been trained in basic SWAT tactics. They also train on how to handle hostage situations and each department has a certified hostage negotiator.
The only time one of the local departments might have to call in outside help would be in the event of a bomb threat.
But the department could have bomb experts here quickly from either San Antonio or Corpus Christi.
Cantu said that in almost any shooting situation, the BPD can count on having highly trained deputies from the Bee County Sheriff’s Office on the scene in addition to the Texas Rangers and the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Cantu said lawmen would also have the support of EMS personnel from Angel Care Ambulance Service and Beeville Volunteer Fire Department members on the scene of any active shooter situation.
When it comes to the quality of SWAT training, Treviño said the sheriff’s office and BPD are fortunate to have some of the best instructors available.
Robert Leal, owner of R.L. Tactical in Austin, is a sniper with the Austin Police Department. Leal started his law enforcement career with the BPD and has become a certified sniper with the APD’s SWAT team.
He is in Beeville with another experienced APD SWAT team member at least once or twice a year to train officers from both the BCSO and BPD. When Leal is in town, officers from neighboring cities also attend the training sessions.
“Public awareness, that’s the greatest asset we have,” Carrizales said.
Teachers, school staff members, parents and even students must be aware of what is going on around them at all times these days.
Usually, when something is about to go wrong, an alert bystander will be able to notice it. Then it is important that when someone sees something suspicious, that he or she contact the police quickly.
“A quick response is crucial for us to be successful,” the sheriff said.
It is better for local police officers to respond to a false alarm than for someone to ignore a possible threat that ends up becoming a fatal tragedy.
When asked about the value of arming teachers and staff members with concealed guns, each of the law enforcement officers stressed the importance of training.
Treviño said he could see the system moving in that direction. But Cantu expressed concern, saying that the thing that separates civilians from police in such incidents is the level of tactical training.
Cantu said police officers train all the time but teachers and school administrators do not have the ability to train at the same level.
Carrizales and Jones echoed Cantu’s concern. Both said parents may not like the idea of someone carrying a gun on a school campus where an accident could result in a serious injury to one of their children.
However, one Texas lawmaker, Louis Gohmert, said if the principal at Sandy Hook Elementary had been armed, she could have stopped the attack before so many children were killed.
Lawmen here do believe that increased security at schools by armed and trained officers could help make campuses safer.
Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.