When a mass school shooting occurs like the one in Parkland, Fla., Ector County Independent School District Police Department Lt. Jeff Daniels said the impulse is to look within — even if it’s just reviewing the emergency manual — and make sure the best efforts are being made for all the students and campuses.
“The biggest thing we can do in light of recent events is maintain what we’re doing now and ensure that our staff and our students are practicing the policies we have in place,” Daniels said.
Along with the 29 sworn officers that are part of the ECISD Police Department, Superintendent Tom Crowe said there are cameras at the schools that feed back to the police station. If an officer is outside of a building in their car, they can access the feed.
The police department also has created a threat management that investigates any threats, violence or disruptive behavior. Their mission is to protect and promote the safety of the students.
“Anytime they get a call, they respond immediately,” Crowe said.
Campuses also are supposed to practice lockdowns and shelter in place and learn the difference. Daniels said shelter in place is for incidents outside the building and lockdowns are when the threat is in the building.
“We never want to put out every detail of what we do within a building for safety because when you put out every single detail, as much as I hate to say it, then the bad guys know it, too,” Crowe said.
He added that you can never guarantee 100 percent safety.
“Nobody can,” Crowe said. “But we make our staff and students as safe as we can, given the circumstances we have. We hope in the future to have controlled access entry at every school.”
Safety upgrades to every campus was part of a bond issue that failed in November 2017. They included securing front-entry vestibules. Some campuses have keypads, intercoms and buzzers and welcome centers have been installed at Odessa and Permian high schools.
Fire and life safety upgrades also were part of the bond.
The idea of arming teachers has been floated following Florida’s Feb. 14 massacre, but Daniels said the district has trained law enforcement officers to protect the students.
“That’s the direction we’ll still be heading,” Daniels said.
The ECISD police department has 29 sworn officers. This includes three officers at OHS and PHS.
There are two officers stationed at Ector Middle School because of its student population and size and one at each of the other middle schools.
The elementary campuses have rovers, officers who check on a certain number of schools.
“Every campus is going to get coverage at some point in time. Our middle and high schools have constant coverage,” Daniels said.
There are no plans currently to set up metal detectors because that would be expensive and time consuming, he added.
Social media plays a huge role when something happens because it spreads information instantly.
“I’m sure it does create a heightened sense of alarm for any child, but the fact is they’re as safe on campus as they’ve ever been. It puts everyone on higher alert. We just need to maintain that rather than fluctuate when incidents happen. We just need to keep it a constant so our students are as safe as we can make them,” Daniels said.
He added that the department reviews policies and procedures and trains, regardless of whether there is an event.
“It’s just we know that when an event does hit the media, there’s going to be a lot more questions … from the public,” Daniels said.
He noted that ECISD police have open lines of communication with local, state and federal agencies and can call for assistance.
Although it is sometimes a hindrance, Daniels said social media can help.
“There’s nothing faster than social media for information sharing. It’s a huge plus for law enforcement. If someone sees something that is questionable, we can act on it and investigate it and see if it’s a true threat when before we may have never heard anything. I think it’s more of a plus than it is a minus,” Daniels said.
Meanwhile, students interviewed at Permian Feb. 28 were split on whether they felt safe at school and liked the idea of arming teachers if they had proper training and a psych evaluation.
Josh Smiley, a 17-year-old senior at Permian, said he doesn’t feel like much could happen at the campus with armed officers patrolling.
Seniors Kynzie Woody, 18, and Lauren Simmons, 17, said they also felt safe.
Woody said she feels like the students are well taken care of and that they have never had a major incident. “Anytime there’s a threat, it’s handled well,” Woody said.
Simmons agreed saying it seemed like those in authority knew what to do and would know what to do if something really big happened.
Smiley said when there is a drill, students go into a classroom, shut off the lights and go into a part of the room that can’t be seen from the door or any exterior windows. “Then you just sit quietly and wait for two announcements from the principal,” he said.
Smiley said arming teachers would be OK, as long as they had proper training and solid background checks and psych evaluations were conducted on those who would be carrying.
Woody said if people knew that their teachers were armed, it would decrease the chance of someone trying to come in and perpetrate a mass shooting.
Allen Jones, who is the Student Senate advisor and teaches a leadership and sports literature course at Permian, said the students in his classes are safe. But he thinks school security should be beefed up and he wouldn’t mind the extra responsibility of being armed.
He added that the way people solve problems these days is with violence and it’s not an issue of the weapon of choice, it’s a problem of the heart and of evil.
Jones added that the school should be proactive, especially if someone is at his classroom door.
“I’m tired of being a reactive culture. I am in my life being very proactive, so why wouldn’t I want to be proactive to protect the kids that are in my room if something like that happened?” Jones said.
Odessa Police Department Spokesman Cpl. Steve LeSueur said the legal age to purchase a rifle is 18 and it’s 21 to purchase a pistol.
Students Smiley, Woody and Simmons said raising the age limit wouldn’t make a difference.
“There are already things that are illegal, like drugs for example. You can still get your hands on them if you want them, so … if you wanted to cause damage you would find a way to get one anyway,” Woody said.
There was a threat of someone wanting to shoot up the school the day after the Parkland shooting. A Permian student, Nicholas Ramsey, 17, reportedly said while playing Rainbow Six Siege “I guess I’ll go do mine now” and “ima shoot up my school now,” a news release detailed.
Ramsey was questioned by detectives and reportedly told them he was making a bad joke in light of the shooting in Florida.
Odessa police charged Ramsey with exhibition, use, or threat of exhibition, a class A misdemeanor.
“I remember a majority of the school did clear out before and the line was wrapped around. People were trying to get out of here, so it did get people’s attention,” Rajput said.
ECISD investigated two school shooting threats Thursday, leading to one arrest, and another student was charged with carrying brass knuckles on campus.
ECISD Police charged 18-year-old Kevin Nunez, a student at New Tech Odessa High School, making a terroristic threat, a class B misdemeanor. Another school shooting threat involving Crockett Middle School ended up being a rumor, district police said.
Sophomore Victoria Sparkman, 15, said she has been worried about past threats at Permian and she worries when she hears about incidents like the one
in Florida. But at the same time, she said she feels there are some youngsters who may just be trying to get attention to get out of school early or not to have school.
Hannah Gore, a 16-year-old sophomore, said the first time she heard about a threat it stuck with her, but now she feels it could be other students just “messing around.”
“I usually feel like I’m safe,” Gore said. “I don’t overthink it very much because we’ve had a couple of threats already, so I don’t think too much about it now.”
Like her peers, Gore said she thinks some teachers would be OK carrying guns, but she doesn’t think everyone should.
Gore said bringing back ID’s would make her feel safer.
Eighteen-year-old senior Claire Adams and juniors Maryam Rajput and Kylee Corbell, both 17, don’t feel safe at school.
Adams said no student deserves to be frightened of coming to school.
“I just think that me being a senior, I’m ready to move on with my life and get out of high school. It’s terrifying to think that I could not have a future because of something that could happen in my high school. Me and all my friends have these big plans to go to college and to get our degrees and do something with our life and it could end over a questionable student in this high school,” Adams said.
Corbell said she feels that there are many youngsters who are feeding off of what’s happening in the world and they think it’s their time to rise and show everybody what they’re capable of “just to get a scare out there.”
Generally speaking, Rajput said thinks there should be more communication with students because it seems like everyone is tip-toeing around the subject of shootings. She said talking about it would help.
Adams said having some type of security check or metal detectors is necessary.
“A lot of people are trying to say this isn’t a prison, but fact of the matter is this is a popular school we’re in the middle of a busy street in town,” Rajput said.