High School Students Test Public Safety Skills at SHSU

Students line up on the stairs while started a SWAT extractions.
Students from 29 schools across Texas got to practice skills in public safety jobs during a statewide competition at Sam Houston State University.

High school students got to step inside the shoes of police, firefighters, lawyers and emergency medical workers during an statewide competition sponsored by the Texas Public Service Association (TPSA) at Sam Houston State University.

The goal of TPSA is to provide a venue through competitive events at regional and state levels for students in the law, public safety, corrections and security clusters. These opportunities will train students in these areas and provide networking across Texas with students in the same field.


Participant lifts a fingerprint off of a CD.
“We are trying to encourage them first to be better citizens,” said TPSA Executive Director Jim Ferguson, a former Dallas and Norman, OK police officer who works in the Mansfield Independent School District. “We want to give them a taste of these careers.”

To get students ready for public service professions, the competitions include scenarios from the daily lives of lawyers, law enforcement, firefighters and other emergency workers. Students are tested in the cases studies as well as problem-solving and decision-making skills.

“It really means a lot,” said David Latu of the Hurst-Euless-Bedford (HEB) School District near Forth Worth. “It’s something I foresee in my future, and I like all the hands-on activities.”

Among the situations students participated in are:

  • Felony traffic stops, foot pursuits, building searches and SWAT extractions
  • Crime scene investigation and fingerprint analysis
  • Firefighting and obstacle courses
  • Opening statements for criminal cases
  • First responder actions

Student writes a traffic citation during a felony traffic stop.
Student writes a traffic citation during a felony traffic stop.
“I think this is a great experience,” said Serena Martinez of the Freer School District in South Texas. “It’s a lot like being in the career, where you have to work hard and practice.”

A total of 305 students from 29 schools across the state participated in this year’s state finals at Sam Houston State University. The event followed six regional competitions in El Paso, Burleson, Mercedes, McKinney, Vidor and San Antonio, where an average of 200 students participated at each event.

“You get to meet a lot of new people from other places in Texas,” said Monica Gonzalez of the Bel Air School District near El Paso. “You make a lot of new friends with the same motivations as you.”

Students compete in a Brain Bowl, which include general knowledge questions in the field and analysis of criminal cases. They also test their skills in presenting information by creating a bulletin board.

A suspect is handcuffed during an exercise.
A suspect is handcuffed during an exercise.
To prepare to become a police officer, students practiced responding to a domestic violence call and were assessed on their oral and written communications. Students also participated in a building search featuring suspects and civilians to judge officer safety, search techniques and decision-making skills.

Criminal justice students also simulated a felony traffic stop, with special attention paid to officer safety, good human relations and the ability to write a traffic citation. During the SWAT extraction, a team rescued hostages held by armed adversaries using entry tactics and safe rescue techniques.

In the courtroom, students demonstrated their skills in making an opening statement in a criminal case.

Forensic skills tested various aspects of crime scene processing, including the identification and analysis of fingerprints, blood spatter, tool marks, footprints, tire tracks, hair, fibers, entomology and firearms. The tests were designed to help students improve their ability in properly searching a crime scene, diagramming the scene, photographing the scene, securing evidence, and documenting the investigation for the possibility of future use in court.

The forensic team investigates a crime scene.
The forensic team investigates a crime scene.
For firefighting, participants demonstrated how to tie a figure eight on a bight, hoist a ladder, hoist an axe, tie a ladder halyard and show a single donut roll. Agility tests for police and fire personnel include low crawls, three foot hurdles, serpentine patterns, trigger squeezes, a dummy drag, push-up and sit-ups, and an endurance run.

To prepare students for emergency situations, participants also were put through scenarios to determine the proper assessment of the scene, the proper techniques to administer help and the first aid or CPR skills that are needed.

“It helps me to see how good I can do because this is what I want to do for a career,” said Casey Vincent, also of the HEB district who plans to follow in his father’s footsteps as a police officer.

Member of The Texas State University System