By S. Barot
For the Fort Bend Star
Following several national cases of firearm-related attacks on law enforcement, the Sugar Land Police Department (SLPD) invested in active-shooter ballistic vests to thwart officer fatalities.
City Council approved the purchase of 52 vests in 2016. At $425 per vest, they will be worn mostly by the patrol and criminal investigations divisions.
SLPD Capt. Michelle Allen said growing concerns about the increase in acts of violence against law enforcement prompted the department to survey what equipment might be needed if faced with an active-shooter situation. Regular bulletproof vests, which are a standard part of uniform, are no match for high-powered rifles that active shooters typically use.
“These active-shooter ballistic vests are rated to stop rounds from high-powered rifles from penetrating the vest and harming an officer,” Allen said.
According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, 64 officers were shot and killed in the line of duty in 2016. Most recently, the ambush-style shooting of five officers in Dallas was a shock to the nation and also to the local community and law enforcement agencies.
Aside from SLPD, other law enforcement agencies in Fort Bend County are exploring new equipment keep their officers safe in the event of an active shooter situation.
Representatives from four agencies in the county told the Star that they have either purchased or are thinking of purchasing active-shooter ballistic vests – but a major hurdle for many of the smaller law enforcement agencies is funding.
Capt. Mike McCoy of the Fulshear Police Department said Fulshear has some ballistic vests for use but not all officers are outfitted with them yet. McCoy also said that Fulshear gets much of its funding from the Fulshear Police Foundation – a nonprofit organization that provides monies for equipment, training and technology for the department.
Chief Gary Stewart of the Meadows Place Police Department called the cost of the ballistic vests “phenomenal” and added that his department depends highly on grant funding, so there is no burden to city taxpayers.
Still, there are other technologies and equipment that area agencies use to protect themselves from active shooters – from body cameras to helicopters.
“One of the primary functions of our helicopter is to make sure that our deputies are safe on the ground,” Major James Hines from the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office said. “We are also upgrading our primary helicopter so it is better equipped for nighttime operations. It will have functions like spotlighting and recording.”
Stewart also added that his department ensures that all police vehicles are equipped with kits for officers in the event of an active shooter.
While many of the other agencies in the county are still in the process of completely outfitting their officers with ballistic vests, they continue to engage their officers in what will also save their life during an active shooter situation – training.
Meadows Place recently built a new training facility on West Airport for the police department and Stewart said it is more conducive in size because the department has grown over the past few years and training is crucial.
Both Stewart and Hines of the sheriff’s office said that their departments train their officers with ALERRT (Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training). ALERRT is the national and industry standard in active shooter response training and is used widely by law enforcements agencies including the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Aside from ALERRT, many area agencies require their own training. This can be anything from instructional training on active shooter situations to physical training.
McCoy said that his department always maintains a high level of training and Fulshear Police Department hosts interactive training simulations using simunition or SIM guns. He also said that department training is not just tactical – it is also physical.
“Our chief is a former SWAT guy,” McCoy said. “He has a lot of SWAT training so he expects our officers to be physically fit and pass fitness tests.”
The overall consensus with McCoy, Hines and Stewart is that Fort Bend County is not a place where an active shooter situation is likely but there is no telling what could happen and they have to be prepared for anything. When asked if Fort Bend County is prepared for the unlikely event of an active shooter, Hines said yes.