The Texas Department of Public Safety has requested that state legislators add a line item to the state's 2024-25 annual budget that would fund the construction of a "state-of-the-art" active shooter response training facility.
According to the Texas Tribune, DPS Director Steve McCraw said the $466.6 million price tag would be a "down payment" on the agency's vision to turn the existing Williamson County DPS Tactical Training Center into a statewide law enforcement academy at a total cost of approximately $1.2 billion.
The proposal for the new training facility comes just months after a deranged gunman launched an attack on Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, killing 21 people (19 children and two adults) and wounding 17 others. It was the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.
In the immediate aftermath of the attack, the police response was roundly criticized as it was reported that many of the officers on duty that day had participated in training on active shooter response just weeks before the massacre. This training was either insufficient or inadequate or simply not followed.
As many as 19 law enforcement officers were amassed in the hallway just outside the classroom in which the gunman had barricaded himself with victims—some dead, others dying, and still others frantically (and furtively) placing phone calls to 911 pleading for assistance.
Almost immediately after details of the flawed police response were broadcast in local and national news outlets, an angry public called for the resignation of a number of elected and appointed officials.
Pete Arredondo—chief of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Police Department—had been elected to the city council a few weeks before the shooting, took his oath of office in secret, and quickly resigned that post in a letter to the city. Lieutenant Mariano Pargas—who was the acting police chief on the day of the tragedy—resigned from the Uvalde Police Department just days before city leaders were to make that call for him. In late October, Uvalde School District Superintendent Hal Harrell announced his intention to resign his post at the end of this academic year.
There had been calls for the resignation of Texas DPS Chief McCraw, but he told CNN in an impromptu interview that he'd only step down if his troopers had "any culpability" in the response some of the harshest critics have called "incompetent."
Instead, McCraw has proposed this new training facility.
There's no question as to whether every law enforcement officer in the United States should have access to top-tier training in a state-of-the-art facility. Indeed, modern police training facilities with ample space for classroom instruction, computer-aided and virtual reality simulation training, and force-on-force scenario-based exercises should be the standard, not the exception.
Sadly, however, making such bold investments is still the exception. For example, earlier this year, Chief Eddie Garcia of the Dallas Police Department called their existing training facilities "embarrassing" as he sought to gain public support for a new training academy on the campus of the University of North Texas. Garcia told local lawmakers that the existing academy has just six small classrooms, a gymnasium with rusted weights, and locker rooms with broken toilets. Plans to make Chief Garcia's proposed upgrade are only now just tentatively approved, and there's no certainty any ground will ever actually be broken on the project.
Elsewhere in the country, many training facilities are decrepit at best and nearly derelict at worst. Many places utilize buildings that have been decommissioned for other purposes—municipally owned buildings deemed unfit for occupancy by city employees or public school students.
More than two full years now removed from the then-popular "defund the police" movement, many elected leaders are running from those previously held positions now that it's lost some of its appeal among the electorate.
Police leaders like Chief McCraw of the Texas DPS certainly have an opportunity to maximize on any renewed interest in "re-funding" the police, particularly amid current calls to make meaningful and impactful investment in law enforcement training.
A new $1.2 billion facility in Florence, Texas appears at first glance to be pretty pricey, but if the new infrastructure ultimately serves all law enforcement agencies in the Lone Star State, the strategy certainly seems sound.
The only remaining question is, will it actually ever really happen?