IN TRAINING: ECISD leads active shooter training

IN TRAINING: ECISD leads active shooter training

Ector County Independent School District Police Department’s Alert Instructor Sergeant Chancey Westfall, right, shadows ECISD Police Officer Rick Henegar as he clears the exterior of the Whitaker Building on Odessa High School’s campus during active shooter training Wednesday afternoon in Odessa. (Odessa American/Eli Hartman)

The Ector County ISD Police Department conducted a solo officer response active shooter training with multiple agencies Wednesday at the Whitaker Building.

The building is used for Odessa High School classes, but it was vacant Wednesday. Training is conducted at various locations throughout the district. ECISD led the training yesterday.

“… What we’re looking at is in an active shooter event, there’s always a first officer on scene and the training that they’re getting here today helps prepare these officers to address that event by themselves,” Assistant ECISD Police Chief Jeff Daniels said.

Ector County Independent School District Police Department’s Alert Instructor Sergeant Chancey Westfall, center, instructs state and local law enforcement officials on how to breach and clear a room as they undergo active shooter training Wednesday afternoon at Odessa High School’s Whitaker Building. (Odessa American/Eli Hartman)

In Ector County, they have been practicing solo officer response for about four years now, but active shooter training has gone on for about 20 years.

“It’s nothing new to our county. It’s kind of changed from the beginning stages of what you see what the alert training. … Instead of waiting for a team to show up to go in and address the situation, it’s now up to that single officer that gets on scene first,” Daniels said.

“We do this every summer and we do it throughout the school year. Training in this area is something that we’re quite proficient and we stay proficient in; the agencies that operate within Ector County, as well. We all operate together and train together. For our area, I think we’re very well prepared for of what has come and what will come in the future,” Daniels added.

There are certified alert instructors who work for the various police departments. Daniels said each agency usually has a few on staff. ECISD has about eight certified alert instructors and they are incorporated as the class teachers.

“They bring in the officers, they conduct the trainings, they do the observation of the officer, and then they help critique areas improvement or things they did right and some things they did wrong and try to address those needs,” Daniels said.

As time passes during the drill, more officers arrive on the scene.

“That’s where you’ll see these teams link up and enter buildings as a team. But before that even takes place, you’ve got officers who are responding by themselves …,” Daniels said.

Officers also work on timing and communication to make sure everyone is on the same page.

Assistant Chief of the ECISD Police Department Jeff Daniels answers questions during an interview as state and local law enforcement officials undergo active shooter training Wednesday afternoon at Odessa High School’s Whitaker Building. (Odessa American/Eli Hartman)

“… It evolves. So there will be the first officer and then they’ll link up with the second arriving officer, up to a third or fourth at the time. We practice their communication between each other, how they’re dealing with each other, how they’re dealing with the problem inside as a team, as well as the information they’re sending out to responding officers. So we’re putting the maximum effort of the forces that are arriving to assist in the right places,” Daniels said.

Twelve officers, including instructors, took part in Wednesday’s exercise. There were officers from the ECISD police, Medical Center Hospital, University of Texas Permian Basin and Texas Department of Public Safety.

Daniels said ECISD led the training.

The officers had breaching tools and shields and they use guns with Simunition.

He said the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde brings light to what is needed.

“And more training is need. You can ever train enough and Uvalde is a very unfortunate incident, but it’s just one of those (incidents) that brings light to law enforcement and how can we prepare better to respond to emergencies like that. You’re always revamping your policies and looking at your training and seeing what can we do? What can we do better and can we do it more often?” Daniels said.

For ECISD, multi-agency training is held four to five times a year, typically in the summer when they have access to the campuses without interrupting the learning environment. At minimum, ECISD officers get active shooter training four times a year, Daniels said.

“If we can get one in during the school year, we do. For ECISD officers, it’s two or three times throughout the summer as a part of this class, as well, on top of what we’re doing throughout the school year on campus,” Daniels said.

Asked if he thought the shooting in Uvalde set law enforcement back a decade, Daniels said information about what happened in that South Texas school district is still coming out.

“I don’t really want to address issues that happened there because we don’t really know all the details yet. But I think it just helps our society prepare and understand what preparation is needed for (investigation) when (incidents) do take place like this. We’ve got to get these officers to be out there to do the job. I think that’s what it brings light to is you got to have the equipment and the ability and the training to handle the situation,” Daniels said.

ECISD has a department with about 27 officers who patrol campuses.

“We work well with the surrounding agencies and they also patrol and check on our campuses. We’re very fortunate in how much law enforcement we have that’s available to our campuses during operational hours,” Daniels said. “We’re in a lot better place than a lot of areas when it comes to that.”

Assistant Chief of the ECISD Police Department Jeff Daniels holds out a Simunition round used in law enforcement active shooter training Wednesday afternoon at Odessa High School’s Whitaker Building. (Odessa American/Eli Hartman)

After the Uvalde shooting, officers from various agencies patrolled or stopped in at campuses here.

“I think you’re going to a lot more law enforcement on campuses from all agencies. It makes it even more of a priority and the closer it gets to home that we’ve got to protect our children,” he added.

Students and staff on campuses are trained on how to proceed during emergencies like an active shooter and those drills are practiced every year.

Daniels said they use department staff members as role players to simulate a real-world environment.

He played the suspect this time. Daniels said he’s done this long enough to know what’s coming.

“… We put a padding on where we can. … You can’t cover everything. … But I know that the training is beneficial to help protect our kids, so we’re all more than willing to play the suspect in this and take those rounds,” Daniels said.

He added that they reenact situations that have already occurred within the training.

“We change out role players. We change out what we wear, so they see us one way in one scenario and then the next scenario we’re in something different doing something else,” Daniels said.

He noted that there are many different styles of active shooter training and they make use of simulators at Odessa College and the Odessa Police Department.

“I think Odessa and Ector County are very well prepared and preparing more and more every day. We’re constantly reevaluating how we do things. What else can we bring? What can we do better and how can we work together? Our agencies have a great working relationship amongst each other and that’s a big benefit to Ector County,” Daniels said.