Teamwork between different law enforcement agencies is one of the key concepts to keep children safe. This was perhaps the most discussed topic at a town hall meeting held by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office last night.
By Lilia Bonilla
The meeting was held at the North Campus of San Jacinto Community College. Representatives from Houston ISD, Galena Park ISD, Channelview ISD and Sheldon ISD, were special guests for the panel discussion on school safety, as well as Lone Star College North Harris Campus President, Steve Head.
Sheriff Adrian Garcia and Dr. Head spoke briefly about the incident earlier in the week. The response of the Sheriff’s office and the teamwork with other law enforcement agencies was repeatedly commended.
Garcia talked about new resources that help Sheriff’s deputies to get crime tips, such as iWatchHarrisCounty, a free application for smart phones and tablet computers. The free app allows users to submit crime tips anonymously, including photos and videos, so that police can learn quickly about criminal or suspicious activities. “The iWatch app has already allowed our deputies to put more than two dozen bad guys behind bars, and we expect more results,” Garcia remarked. He said Harris County residents can also submit crime tips at the Sheriff’s office website at www.hcso.hctx.net, and via Twitter using the handle @HCSOTexas.
“I am proud to say all the agencies responded with the thunder of God,” Garcia said. “We are all partners in this, and that made our work on site much easier.”
Responders to the Lone Star shooting included over 140 HCSO units, Harris County Precint 3 Constables, Reserve HCSO deputies, Marine Deputies, Aviation Deputies, Tact Medics, Houston PD units and helicopters, DPS units, Waller County Sheriff’s Office, the HCSO K9 unit, Metro PD and the HCSO High Risk Operations Unit, which is specifically trained for these situations.
The training received by Lone Star College staff was also instrumental to the success of the operation.
“Due to the frequency of shootings in the country, our staff had recently been trained on how to respond to this type of situation,” Head said. “We got some complaints that they weren’t being nice to students, but we didn’t train them to be nice. We trained them to tell students what to do in the event of an emergency, and it paid off. We avoided more injuries and casualties thanks to that staff being properly trained.”
During the panel discussion, the different representatives explained that all officers are trained to respond to these situations, but differences in training could become a problem when responding alongside different agencies. The basic training is the same, but certain details might vary.
For example, Houston ISD Chief of Police Jimmy L. Dotson told of how one elementary school uses code words to convey there is an intruder in the building. In this case, the principal would go on the intercom and say “I do believe there is a kangaroo in the building” and the teachers and some students would understand there is an intruder on campus.
That school staff must be trained is apparent to all. While districts and schools are training their staff for an emergency situation, awareness and preparedness in students must also be instilled. When students are aware of their surroundings, there is a chance someone might see something suspicious and prevent an incident by speaking up.
“Someone might have known that person had a gun in his possession at Lone Star,” Garcia said. “If they had said something, it could have been prevented. We need to start preventing these situations instead of simply responding to them. When I say that we are in this together, I don’t just mean law enforcement, I mean the community as well.”
To this end, a video on responding to an active shooter situation was played during the meeting. The video can be found online at readyhoustontx.gov. The main message of the video is, if you find yourself in an active shooter situation, “run, hide, fight.”
“I think one of the biggest things I learned from this town hall is that we all do things a little differently,” Garcia said. “As the law enforcement agencies of Harris County, we should consider whether we should implement a county-wide strategy.”
Dan Elliott, Creator of iWatch, Katherine Cabaniss of Crime Stoppers, and Sheriff Adrian Garcia.
For more information about the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, visit IwatchHarrisCounty.com.