Smaller Texas police departments acquiring active shooter protection

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CEDAR PARK, Texas (KXAN) – Cedar Park is perhaps best known for its hockey arena (home to the AHL Texas Stars) and its ever-expanding commercial strip along Whitestone Boulevard (home to Costco and In-and-Out burger). What is less common are incidents of violent crime.

Still, the police chief in this prospering Austin-area suburb of 67,000 says it’s time to further prepare for the unthinkable – an active shooter.

“I don’t think it matters if it’s a suburban police department or a major metropolitan police department, [an active shooter] can happen anywhere,” says Chief Sean Mannix.

“I think we owe it to our community to have that kind of protective ability so our officers can keep them[selves] safe.”

Cedar Park Police just took delivery of 87 ballistic metal plate vests and 78 kevlar helmets. The department also now has several ballistic shields that are carried by on-duty supervisors.

Mannix explains he found the $32,000 for the gear in his internal budget. He also picked up some field trauma kits and tourniquets for his troops.

Other departments KXAN checked with such as Georgetown PD confirm they’re looking into how to fund the acquisition of ballistic gear — in some cases exploring grants available. For example, Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation provides grants for these types of requests, one area police spokesman confirmed.

Other smaller police agencies have joined Cedar Park PD in such tactical planning:

  • Round Rock PD confirm they already have ballistic gear for all officers. As does neighboring Leander PD.
  • Leander PD: “We do have helmets and ballistic vests for our officers. Currently we have a one size fits all assigned to every patrol vehicle, says Lt. Derrel Partin in an email response to KXAN. “We have 25 marked police vehicles. I have requested in my budget proposal to purchase a set for every officer so that they have the equipment directly assigned to them.”
  • Buda PD: “We purchased hard plate carriers for our officers a few years ago with forfeiture funds. We issue them M-4 rifles as well. Buda PD, PIO David Marino said in an email.

But those Central Texas agencies are the few with ballistic gear among agencies which responded to KXAN’s inquiries.

Georgetown PD: Outside of SWAT, we do not have such equipment,” says Chief Wayne Nero. “We have discussed (helmets/plate carriers) to include FD as well. The inclusion of FD comes from the more contemporary training of integrating EMS into active shooter response earlier in the situation to assist with medical response.” Chief Wayne Nero. I’d imagine at some point in the near future we will be looking at this.

Pflugerville PD: “We do not provide ballistic helmets or extra vests to anyone outside of our tactical team.” Asst Chief Jim McLean. “We are in the process of reviewing options for future acquisition of the equipment. We are looking into grants and other avenues to acquire the items.”

Williamson County Sheriff’s Office: “Only specialized units such as SWAT have ballistic plates and helmets,” confirmed Capt. Fred Thomas. “The rank and file, uniform deputies have the standard issue vest they wear under their uniform shirt. I am not aware of any plans to purchase these items for all officers. Williamson County is the final stages of the FY 17 budget process and I would venture to guess a purchase of this magnitude would be cost prohibitive at this time.”

San Marcos PD: We have had no discussion in staff and not aware of specific grants but there are some out there that can probably be tailored to those needs,” wrote Asst. Chief Bob Klet. “We do use a grant to help fund normal body armor and all officers are required to wear in uniform.”

UT System: “For security reasons, we don’t typically provide information on the kind of protective equipment that is utilized by UT System Police. spokesperson Melanie Thompson.

Earlier this month, Austin Police Association’s president publicized his desire to see all officers outfitted with ballistic gear.

“I have… demanded that management and council provide first line responders with ballistic vest that can stop rifle rounds. The only response I’ve seen so far from the city is a request to cut $3.5 million out of next year’s APD budget,” APA President Ken Casaday wrote to APA members.

In Austin’s budget amendments, Mayor Steve Adler is requesting half a million dollars be put aside for just such a purchase.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick may come to their rescue. This past week in Dallas, he mentioned he’d be looking into how to fund a ballistic armor project for police agencies across the state of Texas.

What about other first responders?

A spokesperson at Austin’s Fire Department says city firefighters do not carry ballistic gear but there has been some discussion about it. San Antonio FD reportedly recently acquired the special protective gear.

Austin-Travis County EMS and staff are issued light ballistic vests for calls where violence could be a factor. Special Operations medics also have a higher grade vest they can don if the need arises, a spokesman said.

President of the ATCEMS union, Tony Marquardt, tells KXAN Investigates he supports recommendations made in a report entitled EMS Response to Active Shooter/Hybrid Targeted Violence Incidents that he says was submitted to management.

“Instead of a phased approach, we will be advocating for full implementation (of ballistic vests and helmets) this budget cycle.”

“Our current equipment has served adequately but must change with the times… Our medics face increasing threats…with substantial exposure and deserve an appropriate level of protection.”

Marquardt refers to decisions taken on behalf of first responders in Dallas and San Antonio.

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