Denton County Sheriff: We don't wait, we engage active shooters

The Denton County Sheriff said Tuesday his deputies are expected to take immediate action and engage during an active shooter situation.

The publicly released memo to his staff was in reaction to the fallout from the deadly South Florida high school shooting. Officials there later revealed the armed school resource officer on scene stayed outside the building while the shooting was occurring.

“We do not stage and wait for SWAT, we do not take cover in a parking lot, and we do not wait for another agency,” Sheriff Tracy Murphree wrote. “We go in and do our duty. We go in to engage and stop the shooter and save lives.”

Murphree said the memo was designed to make his policy clear on what to do in situations like a school shooting.

“If for any reason you cannot follow this directive, please inform your supervisor and we will work to get you re-assigned,” Murphree wrote.

The Denton County memo comes as Broward County Sheriff Steve Israel is investigating several of his deputies.

Scot Peterson was the armed school resource deputy on duty on the Florida campus. Sheriff Israel was critical of Peterson and suspended him. Peterson immediately resigned and retired after the sheriff says his deputy waited outside the building and did nothing while the shooter was inside killing students and staff.

Through his attorney, Peterson defended his actions saying he thought the shots were coming from outside the building. Consistent with his training, he took cover and took a tactical position outside.

Reports also say three other armed Broward County deputies arrived but did not go inside until police officers got on scene. Now, Sheriff Steve Israel is under fire for his lack of leadership.

The tragedy that unfolded in Florida this month has placed attention on guns, mental health and how deputies and officers respond to school shootings.

“It’s been at the top of everyone's mind,” Murphree said. “And I just wanted to take this opportunity to make sure that people who work for me know what’s expected of them.”

Murphree's memo to employees was sent Monday to remind deputies of their duties and suggested reassignment if they didn’t feel comfortable running into a school and taking a shooter on.

“The public expects us to protect them,” the Denton County sheriff said. “And the public expects us to be transparent in how we are going to do that.”

Policies do vary from department to department, but many became more direct after the Columbine shooting in 1999. Previously, most responded with negotiators and perimeters. But for years now, the response has been to go in.

Retired Garland PD Detective Clint McNear is a current law enforcement consultant. He says many officers are now trained to go in alone.

“They don't have the luxury of having two or three or four officers arriving within seconds,” he said. “And then it comes down to how long can you stand there and live with yourself hearing gunfire in an elementary school or middle school, knowing each shot is probably taking the life of a child.”

Department policies do vary on whether to wait for backup. FOX 4 surveyed Grand Prairie, Garland and Fort Worth police. All are trained to assess the situation, but eliminate the threat above all.

Dallas Police Chief Renee Hall responded Monday about its policy on officers responding alone.

“Not individually. When we say that they are not trained to wait, we don’t mean if you come as a one-man unit to run in,” the chief said. “But there is initial responding units that respond. They go in as a team the way they were trained.”

McNear says no matter the policy and training, many officers will do what's necessary anyway.

“Policies differ by departments,” he said. “But I can tell you most law enforcement in their minds, they're going in.”

The Denton County Sheriff’s Office posted its memo online on Tuesday. It's been shared more than 10,000 times.