After a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at Uvalde’s Robb Elementary School in May, Gov. Greg Abbott directed Texas public schools to “redouble” their efforts to ensure schools are safe and secure before the start of the new school year.
Abbott charged Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath with outlining several actions districts must complete, including conducting a safety audit of school facilities and an exterior door safety audit. Each school district must also convene its safety and security committee to review its plans for emergencies like school shootings and ensure all staff, including substitutes, are trained on campus safety procedures.
Texas’ top state officials also allocated $105.5 million to support extra safety measures, including $17.1 million for school districts to purchase silent panic alert technology and $50 million for bullet-resistant shields, such as those officers used to confront the Uvalde school shooter.
The San Antonio Report asked North East Independent School District Police Chief Wallace McCampbell how he thinks these initiatives will help with school safety and how his department keeps its 75 campuses safe. NEISD employs 70 officers when fully staffed.
Question: How helpful do you think the governor’s recent directives will be in keeping schools and students safe, such as the purchasing of body shields and requiring a summer targeted partial safety audit?
Chief Wallace McCampbell: We are always looking at our security plans to see if there is anything we can do differently or utilize [equipment] such as shields or other security systems to help make our schools safer. I don’t believe it is necessary that every officer have a shield, but having some could benefit if they were ever needed. The summer safety audit would help for those who don’t regularly check to ensure that doors and locks are functioning properly. By requiring this, I think it helps remind all of us to make sure we are doing this on a more consistent basis.
Q: How much of the governor’s required actions does NEISD already do, such as ensuring exterior doors are locked and scheduling mandatory drills?
WM: We have been locking our exterior doors now for several years. We have even added perimeter fencing around all our campuses to help ensure that anyone who comes up to the campus checks in at the office. We have always made sure that all mandated drills are completed as required by legislation or local requirements.
Q: How often does the district conduct lockdown drills? How will drills change with this new funding and mandates from the state?
WM: There is one lockout drill completed in the fall and one lockdown drill in the fall and another in the spring. I don’t see this changing unless legislation requires it in the future.
Note: The state requires school districts complete several drills a year. A lockout drill involves securing the perimeter of school buildings and grounds to ensure no one can enter when there is a perceived threat outside the campus, according to the Texas School Safety Center The state requires one lockout drill per school year. A lockdown drill involves securing the inside of school buildings and grounds when there is an “immediate threat of violence” inside the school. The state requires one lockdown drill per semester.
Q: What other tools do you think would be helpful in maintaining school safety and security? What more do you think the state could be doing to secure campuses?
WM: Each school district has different needs based on what they have currently. For NEISD, I feel that we have done a lot of things to help make our campuses more secure. There are things that have been discussed that not necessarily would be adding to what we are doing but enhancing what we have. Of course, doing this has a cost. Funding to be able to upgrade our current systems would be the most beneficial to the district. Like other districts, we have some older schools that could benefit from funding to upgrade them to be more up to date with today’s security features.
Q: Has NEISD had its intruder detection audit conducted by the Texas School Safety Center yet? If so, what did you learn from the audit?
WM: I have not been made aware of any detection audit being conducted at NEISD.
Q: How well-equipped is the NEISD police force to coordinate with other law enforcement agencies during an emergency? Is there an SAPD or DPS liaison with whom you coordinate?
WM: We have the capability to communicate over our police radios with any law enforcement agency in the county. We just recently met with the San Antonio police chief, sheriff and other municipality agencies that we have schools located in to discuss coordination of responses to events at any of our campuses. We have a good relationship with them and feel that we will all work together if there was a major event that occurred on one of our campuses.
Q: How will security feel differently on campus in the upcoming school year?
WM: I don’t think there will be much difference from what we have been doing in the past. There may be some things that will be different but not visible to the average person who visits our campuses.
Q: How are school district police departments trained to respond to an active shooter? Is it all the same or is there discretion among departments?
WM: Every peace officer in the state of Texas is trained exactly alike. It doesn’t matter if you go work for a city, county or school district, we are all required by [the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement] to obtain a certain number of training hours and specific types of courses before we can even get a peace officer’s license. It is once you get to your agency that the type and amount of training may be different.
Q. Do officers wait for SAPD in the event of an active shooter? How do they communicate with SAPD? Will Uvalde change anything about the way they are trained/are to respond?
WM: In the event of an active shooter, we will wait for no one. The first officer is going to engage the threat, even if they are the only officer there. We communicate through our radio system with other agencies.
Q: How can NEISD predict or identify students who might cause harm to their classmates? Is the NEISD police department involved in the behavioral threat assessment process at all, and how does it balance safety needs with privacy concerns?
WM: Last school year, we utilized seven officers who volunteered to be part of a mental health unit within the police department. These officers are utilized to assist counselors and school administrators to provide assistance to students in a mental [health] crisis. Our sole purpose is to provide resources that are available to families if needed to get help for whatever the situation may be. These individuals are identified in several different ways. They could report themselves as needing help, or someone else reports it to us or administration that someone may be thinking about harming themselves or others. It is a requirement for officers be involved in the threat assessment process.
Q: What are parents, students and teachers telling you about their safety concerns? What are you doing to calm their fears?
WM: I have only had a couple people reach out to me personally. I just basically tell them that the district is always evaluating our policies and procedures on safety. We are doing everything that we think is needed to reduce the risk of anything bad happening at one of our schools. I tell them everything that we currently do that they may not know about to let them know it is safe for them or the child to come to school every day and feel safe.