By Jueseppi B.
More gun violence. Yes, when you shoot an unarmed person, no matter if you wear a law enforcement uniform or not, that is gun violence.
The overnight shooting of an eighth-grade burglary suspect by a Pasadena Independent School District police officer Tuesday puts a spotlight on the policies and training of the officers designated to protect Texas school campuses.
Tuesday’s shooting marks the first time a firearm has been used by a Pasadena ISD police officer since the department was established in 1981, the school district said. The school district of about 52,000 students employs 29 uniformed officers. Authorities say that officers that work at school district departments are trained in the same way as other peace officers in the state.
The officer, whose name has not been released, was responding to an intruder alarm at about 12:30 a.m. on Miller Intermediate School campus, after a break-in of one of the portable buildings on the campus that teaches 765 students. The officer arrived on the scene and found the suspect on the scene of the break-in. The officer said he could not tell the teen’s age because of his dark clothing. The officer yelled for the teen to stop, then fired one shot, hitting the boy in the chest, authorities said. The student is in critical but stable condition with a gunshot wound to the upper right chest. The City of Pasadena Police Department is investigating the shooting, while the school district police investigate the theft.
Pasadena Police Chief Bud Corbett told KHOU that the teen had his hands by his chest and the officer believed he had a gun. Reports indicate that the student was not armed, but was carrying a back pack full of electronics.
Pasadena Police Assistant Chief Bud Corbett said the officer, a 17-year law enforcement veteran, told investigators he did not know how old the suspected burglar was when he shot him. The names of the boy and the officer were not released.
The boy, an eighth-grader at the school, was shot in the chest by the district police officer, who was investigating a broken window in a portable classroomcontaining computers after an alarm went off, Pasadena Independent School District Superintendent Kirk Lewis said.
According to a release from the district, the officer arrived at 12:45 a.m. Tuesday at the campus of Miller Intermediate School in the Houston suburb of Pasadena. The officer called for backup but before help arrived he spotted the boy leaving the building.
Corbett said when the boy came out of the structure, he was backlit and appeared as more of a silhouette to the officer, who was standing under a light. The officer then told him to stop, Corbett said.
“The officer observed he had his hands at his chest and he thought that what was in those hands was a gun,” said Corbett, whose agency is investigating the shooting along with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. School district police were investigating the burglary.
The boy, dressed in a black hoodie and black shorts, was standing about 20 feet away on some steps outside the classroom when he was shot in the upper chest, near his right shoulder. Corbett said the boy was not shot while trying to run away but had stopped and was facing the officer when he was hit.
It was not until after the shooting that the officer discovered how old the suspected burglar was and that he was not armed but carrying a mesh backpack, which contained contents from the building, according to authorities.
According to the school district, the officer is a six-year veteran of the ISD police force and has worked in law enforcement for 17 years. He has been placed on administrative leave as the police department investigates the shooting.
In 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas issued a report , critical of school district’s use of force in Texas public schools. The report indicates that the use of law enforcement officials on Texas public school campuses has expanded since the 1990s. The report said that in Texas, there are 178 independent school districts that employ their own police departments, but no statewide guidelines exist to govern their mission. Of the school district police forces surveyed, the departments employed varied uses of force. Many do not use guns, but instead employ Tasers or pepper spray.
Al Carter, spokesman for Pasadena school district, said officers with the ISD police department meet once a year for a training with other municipal police officers in the state. Pasadena Police Department spokesman Vance Mitchell said that the school district officers do carry weapons and are certified police officers with the state.
Houston ISD police department is one of the largest of its kind. To be eligible for a job as a school police officer at Houston ISD, applicants must complete six months of basic training, just like any municipal officer in Texas. They then get an additional 12 to 14 weeks of school-based training. Officers with the Houston Independent School District’s police department only use guns as enforcement tools, according to an HISD spokeswoman Juanita Cantu .
HISD confirmed in a statement that it could not recall any incidents in which a a school police officer had wounded a student with a gun.
Kenneth Trump, president of the National School Safety and Security Services based in Ohio, said that the shooting should be considerable a typical officer-involved shooting to determine if it was a justifiable use of force, and said school district officers should not be considered “second-class officers.”
Trump said if a trained, certified officer works for the school district it would be ridiculous for him not to carry a firearm.
“Somehow people look at school police departments as a second class law enforcement agency,” he said. “When officers work at schools, they are dealing with kids and very challenging situations.”
Laura LeBlanc, spokeswoman at the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education, said school district police department are recognized as official police departments in the state and undergo the same training as officers at city departments.
Matt Simpson, a policy strategist with the ACLU of Texas, said that some school districts in the state do not distribute their policies on dealing with force as public information. He said in a general sense, there is not a lot of additional training for school resource officers specified to working with students.
“Law enforcement officers have the same training that law enforcement gets,” Simpson said. “That’s not really targeted toward working with youth.”
Classes continued as usual on Tuesday and counselors were available to assist students.
“We want to make the day as normal as we can for our students,” said superintendent Kirk Lewis. Lewis. “This is a tragedy for everyone involved. It is upsetting that one of our students has been hurt. This has been very upsetting for the officer. Our hopes and prayers are for a quick recovery for everyone.”
So now American law enforcement professionals shoot first, hope they shoot the right person, and ask questions and determine if the shooting is justified after the gunsmoke clears?
America is a hot nasty mess.