SAN MARCOS, TEXAS — A national center aimed at training police officers to effectively respond to terrorism and violent crimes in progress will open soon in San Marcos.
Construction is expected to begin in June on the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center (ALERRT Center). The facility will be built on a 196-acre tract at Gary Job Corps, adjacent to the San Marcos Municipal Airport.
The ALERRT Center is a partnership of Southwest Texas State University, the city of San Marcos Police Department, the Hays County Sheriff’s Office, Gary Job Corps, Prairie View A&M University, the Texas School Safety Center, the Texas Tactical Police Officers Association and Wackenhutt Corrections Corp.
Initial funding for the center came from a $485,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. ALERRT Center organizers are currently seeking an additional $500,000 in grants to complete first-year funding for the project.
“The ALERRT Center will focus on training for the police officers and deputies who patrol our neighborhoods and will be the first to respond to terrorist acts and violent crimes in progress in our communities,” said San Marcos Police Sgt. Terry Nichols, one of the organizers of the center.
The center is planned as a state-of-the-art national police training program and facility to offer low-cost tactical police training to police line officers.
Key support for the federal funding for the center came from U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul.
“We depend on these men and women to respond to our crises and protect our homes, families and country. I was pleased to help secure this funding to provide emergency response training for law enforcement personnel,” said Hutchison, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Paul promised his continuing effort to seek funding for the center.
“I will continue to assist the partners in their efforts, headed by Southwest Texas State University, to bring more resources to the ALERRT Center. This important program has been made even more relevant by the horrific events of Sept. 11. With terrorism and other violent crimes affecting us all, it is critical that local law enforcement have adequate and up-to-date initial responder training. It is the ALERRT Center’s mission to provide exactly such training opportunities,” said Paul.
Nichols said the idea for the ALERRT Center came about before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and was first discussed in the wake of violent incidents in public schools, such as the mass killing at Columbine High School in Colorado. At Columbine, Nichols said, lives were lost because the initial responding police officers were trained to establish a perimeter and wait for SWAT teams.
“The face of violent crime is changing. We’re seeing more and more instances where the goal of the criminals is to take as many lives as possible as quickly as possible. Experience has shown us that without proper training, many officers will freeze or fail to act in situations like that. Failing to act, or even hesitating to act, can have tragic consequences,” said Nichols.
Quint Thurman, professor and chair of the Department of Criminal Justice at SWT, said the goal is to raise a total of $6 million for the first three years of the center’s operation.
“We’re actively seeking additional grant funding for this program for a three-year period. After that, we expect the training center to become self-sufficient through fee-based training courses and funded research projects,” said Thurman.
Plans for the ALERRT Center’s first year include:
“There are many very good programs designed to prevent violent crimes from occurring,” said Thurman. “But the unfortunate fact remains that they will continue to occur in our schools and in our communities. Law enforcement officers must be prepared for violent confrontation and they must be properly trained to end the violent episode immediately to avoid mass casualties and to protect innocent victims. We believe the ALERRT Center is an important step in that direction.”