Police officers and academy personnel from across the state underwent training in San Marcos last month to prepare them to train private citizens to become licensed school marshals, a new type of Texas law enforcement officer.
The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) held the course at the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response (ALERRT) facility at Texas State.
This was the first step in implementing the Protection of Texas Children Act, which went into effect Jan. 1 of this year. The act created a school marshal program that allows school board-appointed district employees to obtain a license to carry a handgun on school property, according to the bill.
“They’re there for a very narrow, specific purpose, and that’s to act as a first line of defense, should an attacker come on campus and start murdering kids,” said John Curnutt, director of training for ALERRT. “While (local police) are trying to get there and they’re already there, they can act as a mitigator in that event.”
The curriculum, created by TCOLE in collaboration with ALERRT, is an 80-hour course that covers emergency situation and firearm proficiency training, and is designed to prepare marshals to respond to an active shooter situation, Curnutt said.
In accordance with the training, a marshal’s handgun will be kept in a locked safe if the licensed individual is in regular and direct contact with students, and may only access it in situations requiring the use of deadly force, according to the bill.
“Neither the licensing course nor House Bill 1009 outlines a specific type of handgun to be used,” said Janice Washington, public information officer for TCOLE. “So it will be up to the ISD where the school marshal is employed to determine the type of weapon carried and to provide the weapon.”
Intermediate weapons, such as batons and Tasers, and open hand control will not be used, Curnutt said.
Applicants for a marshal license must be have a current concealed handgun license, undergo a psychological exam, and complete a series of tests prior to, during and after attending the course, Curnutt said.
Marshals are required to register with their employer, local law enforcement and the department of public safely, but otherwise their identities as marshals will be kept a secret for security purposes, according to the bill.
Marshals are not peace officers, but are given all the authority of a peace officer to prevent or mitigate a situation threatening serious bodily injury or death of students, faculty, or visitors on school premises, according to TCOLE.
“School marshals really will only be exercising deadly force in deadly force situations," Curnutt said. “They’re not going to be a law enforcement officer that comes in and arrests people under any other conditions.”
The program is available to any public or open charter school in the state of Texas, according to the bill.
The course was attended by officers from Grayson, Wichita, Lasalle, Collin, Tom Green, Williamson, Milam, Tarrant, Bexar, Brewster and Dallas Counties, Washington said.
The Hays County Sheriff’s office did not send anyone to participate in the training, Curnutt said.
“We’ve already got school resource officer programs and a lot of law enforcement presence in and around campuses already,” Curnutt said. “So I don’t feel that (Hays County schools) are going to be the target audience for this bill.”
Richard Bryan, Director of the Alamo Area Council of Government's (AACOG) law enforcement academy, said he has not heard of any school districts in Bexar County that have expressed interest in applying to have a licensed marshal, because each of those campuses have their own police force.
The program may be of more interest to schools in the twelve counties surrounding Bexar, Bryan said, as AACOG’s law enforcement academy offers primary services to those regions.
“Your smaller, rural, out of the way areas where there’s going to be a very long response time, where there’s no school resource officer programs and they can’t afford to start one of their own—that’s most likely where you’re going to see schools take advantage of this,” Curnutt said.