A scene from the old west returns to Texas in a few more weeks. Come January 1st it will be perfectly legal to openly carry a hand gun. In anticipation of that law taking effect - Austin police have started a training program on how to react.
Learning when to use lethal force is part of the basic curriculum for new police cadets. How to hit a target at APD's police academy - wasn't in the lesson plan Monday for 44 cadets. They were hitting the books. Along with studying the penal code - the cadets are also learning about the new Texas Open Carry Law.
Common sense - according to Commander Andy Michael - is a big part of the training program.
"Most of the criminal element you are not going to find to be openly carrying anyway, so I think if I were a patrol officer and I was working a street to see someone openly carrying, in a hip holster or shoulder holster, wouldn't cause me much more concern, quite honestly I would probably assumed that was a license holder."
Commander Michael believes APD is already ahead of the learning curve because of past confrontations - especially at the state capitol.
Supporters of an open carry law have showed up for several rallies with long riffles - and antique handguns. Having those kind of fire arms - out in the open is already legal, but for some in the law enforcement community - seeing it first hand was a learning experience; that’s now hard to forget.
"So I don’t think our officers are going to be overly alarmed by the change in the law,” said Commander Michael.
To re-enforce that- completing an on-line course about the new law is required for all veteran police officers. The study plan includes knowing that businesses - schools, churches and some government offices can still have limited gun free zones. And that the law is not a free pass.
"A peace officer may ask somebody openly carrying for their license at any time,” said Commander Michael.
The training will not just be focused on patrol officers, 911 call takers will also go through it. That’s because it’s anticipated they will get that phone call from an individual in a panic that spots someone walking around with a gun.
The goal is to defuse situations- in the 911 operations center - and properly identify a real threat before the officer arrives on scene
“It’s our belief that the call taker is going to be the first step in educating the public beyond the media campaign and everything else,” said Commander Michael.
PD is also helping smaller police departments get up to speed with the new law. The academy's Open Carry study plan is being made available to those who want it.
The learning process is not just for law enforcement, not everyone can go out and walk around with a holstered gun. The new law - still requires a permit.
The eligibility rules include;
- Being at least 21 years old.
- Having no felony or serious misdemeanor convictions in the past five years.
- You can't be behind on child support payments.
Open Carry Details from Texas DPS: House Bill 910
Effective: January 1, 2016