Chief Eric Mendez
CFISD’s Chief of Police Eric Mendez has been in law enforcement for 28 years, starting out in Kingsville, a small city just south of Corpus Christi where he worked for nine years. After a year and a half of convincing, Mendez finally joined a friend in Austin ISD, and spent the next 18 years working for the police force there. He worked his way from the bottom to the top, starting out as a patrol officer, then being promoted to campus officer, followed by sergeant, lieutenant, and captain, and ultimately becoming Chief of Police for Austin ISD. He served as chief in Austin for five years, before coming to Cypress-Fairbanks ISD.
The transfer to CFISD worked out great for Mendez. It benefited him professionally since he was moving from the fifth-largest school district in Texas to the third-largest. It was advantageous to his family because his mother, brother, sister-in-law, cousins, nieces, and nephews all live in the community.
“Something I tell officers when they work in our department, is anytime you look to go to another agency you want to answer two questions for yourself. One, is it professional, is it beneficial to your professional growth, and two is it beneficial to your family.”
CFISD established a clear backpack policy over the summer, and Mendez described the policy as “the first step in the multitude of steps that we’re taking to ensure student safety.” Alongside that, he addressed the problem of parents and community members speaking against clear backpacks:
“The way I best explain everything that we’re doing in the district is the same thing you would do at home. When you go to bed at night do you lock your front door? Do you turn on a porch light? Do people utilize alarm systems to secure their house at night? Do you utilize your neighbors to help be watchful of your home when you’re not there? So you take different steps to ensure your home safety. It’s the same concept in our school district.”
According to Mendez, all CFPD officers received mental health training prior to the school year. His newest addition to the police force – two full-time mental health officers, who will work with at-risk students who are placed in mental health treatment. The officers will be “always busy” according to Mendez, with tasks including working with outside treatment providers, meeting with district guidance school counselors, and of course keeping in contact with parents and their students.
“People often think that a mental health condition is something that you shy away from. If you came to school and you felt like you had a cold and you were sniffling and sneezing, others around you ask you are you OK? Maybe you should go see a doctor, maybe you should go home, take some time off, get better… Because with the proper treatment, you can overcome mental health. Just like with the proper treatment you can overcome the flu, you can overcome the cold, it’s the same thought process.”
The purpose of the two mental health officers is to help provide assistance to students suffering from mental health crisis by reaching out to students and figuring out the best treatment plan so they can get better. After previously having a mental health officer during his time in Austin, Mendez says he needed to bring that concept over to CFISD. He understands sometimes when a criminal act occurs there’s an underlying mental health issue.
“Sometimes people with suicidal ideology will not only think about suicide for themselves, but harming others before they take out themselves, right? One of the facts of suicide is maybe depression, a person may be depressed because of the way people treat them at school.”
Plan of Action in Case of Emergency and Training
At any school, the plan of action when it comes to a threat is a quick response. Each campus at CFISD has officers, and they would be the primary response to the threat. They would notify the department, and Mendez and his force would respond accordingly, meaning everyone would be going there in the case of an active shooter.
“If you consider and if you watch media coverage with Santa Fe, with the Parkland shooting in Florida, you will see an abundance of law enforcement present at a campus. We need to respond to stop the threat and ensure the safety of the students and the lives of the students.”
All officers in CFISD are trained through Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT). ALERRT was founded at Texas State University, with the help of some San Marcos police officers and others in the area. It is a rapid response training program where officers learn to respond to active shooter situations. In an active shooter situation, officers would go through the correct protocol to handle the situation.
Mendez strongly believes that while you can prepare all you want for any situation, you can never be “100 percent ready.” He will continue to work with his police force to train all the time, whether it be during the school year or in the summer, they will train and continue to develop their skills.
“I’ll always say we’re not 100 percent ready because we need to continue to train. And as long as we’re continuing to train we’re still striving to be 100 percent ready. While on the back end we may be, I don’t want to think that because I don’t want us to be complacent in the work that we do I want us to be ready. I want us to ensure that we’re going to respond, and we’re going to respond effectively to save as many lives and to prevent any loss of life as possible.”
Old Procedures and New Technologies
With clear backpacks now being required district-wide, it’s very easy to do a quick check inside a student’s bag for potentially dangerous items. However, the CFISD random check policy is still in place. This means throughout the school year, the administration on campus will go to classrooms and search students’ backpacks to see if they can find items not allowed on campus.
“I think that random searches are still a valued concept, with metal detectors and students being checked randomly.”
Under state law, intruder assessments are required at all schools. However, statistics and results from these assessments are protected under state law. Mendez said during these inspections: “Sometimes we find individuals let us in, and sometimes we don’t.”
When it comes to newer technologies that will be used to further ensure student safety, one of the most popular options is metal detectors. While it may seem like an obvious decision, there’s a lot more that comes in to play. First, if metal detectors were to be placed on campus, students might have to arrive earlier to school because there would be an extra wait time since every student has to be checked. Additionally, if metal detectors were placed all over campus, there would need to be someone manning the metal detectors all day ensuring anyone coming in and out of the school is accounted for. Secondly, metal detectors on every campus cost millions of dollars, and the district has to spend the money wisely.
“We talk about money. While there’s no cost that you can put on the price of a life, there’s still a consideration of we want to spend wisely. We want to make sure that what we’re doing is the best decision for the students, the staff, the parents, and the community as a whole.”
The Next Step in Safety
Over the summer, the district took suggestions on safety in front of the school board. Those ideas will be taken into consideration and a multitude of new policies will emerge from the meeting. A lot of other ideas being considered have come from Gov. Greg Abbott’s school safety recommendations, which can be accessed online. When taking a look at the policies CFISD already has in place, most of Abbott’s recommendations are currently implemented in CFISD according to Chief Mendez.
“Yes, we’re going to make some changes. Yes, we’re going to implement some things we feel would enhance school safety and security, but we’re in pretty good shape. CFISD has done a lot of work over the years to be ahead of the curve when it comes to school safety and security.”
“I think that school and campus safety is not just the police department’s responsibility. I think that it’s the community as a whole responsibility, to ensure that schools are safe every day. And so everybody plays a part, in school safety. Whether at home having conversations with your child, whether it’s community businesses reporting activity around campuses that they see in close proximity. It’s staff members reporting incidents or concerns to the administration or the officers on the campus so that we can look in to it. It’s students reporting either in person, by phone, or anonymous tip line, areas of concern so that we can ensure our schools are safer every day.”