Tarrant County

Grapevine officer on mission to improve school safety receives state recognition

Officer Patrick O'Neal spent about five years detailing maps and creating a blueprint for law enforcement to find any area or room on a school campus in an emergency

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A Grapevine Police officer received statewide recognition for his meticulous work over the last several years for putting together detailed maps of almost two dozen schools in Grapevine to help law enforcement respond quickly to emergencies.

"I'm not an awards guy, but I appreciate the state for what they did, but at the end of the day, it's all about the safety of the kids," said O'Neal who was very humble about the recognition.

On Friday he was given the 2023 State of Texas Law Enforcement Achievement Award for Public Service in the House of Representatives Chamber at the state capitol in Austin.

The veteran of 17 years has a background with the SWAT team which gave him the perspective that a map would be beneficial for officers responding to school campuses officers may not be familiar with.

O'Neal began his mission to create blueprints of each school in 2017, realizing a need for consistent information of each location.

"When I was doing the mapping process, I would literally walk every square foot of those locations," said O'Neal about canvasing about 20 different campuses. “So being able to walk those [buildings] inch-by-inch and track every door, every wall, every crevice and then bringing that to fruition," said O'Neal.

He said he would print out Google Maps and then start drawing on them. O'Neal said he needed help taking it from paper to digital, and that's when he linked up with the Grapevine Geographic Information System (GIS) staff to develop the maps.

"Every single school is color coordinated and then having those door identifiers on the map is always huge," explained O'Neal.

He couldn't show the maps for security reasons but said it's like a basic floor plan, showing the access points into the schools, the doors that are numbered and what kind of key is needed to access each door.

"My goal was to develop a system to where all the officers who are not able to access the schools like I am. God forbid we get that call, they can have a system that they can go by to access to school so we get an active shooter we have Colleyville that will come or Southlake, so long term is to access that same map even in a different city," explained O'Neal.

"It's always good to look at to develop a plan to where you can respond quickly, not only get there but get to the right locations," said O'Neal. "Hypothetical situation, you got a bad guy that's on the north side of a building, but we ended up going to the south side. That's a huge gap when it comes to these buildings, so being being able to develop a mapping system to where the information that we gather, if the bad was on the north side. 'OK, how can I get into the building and access to building in the fastest way on the north side?'"

He said last year there was an incident at a high school and he was told that the command staff who responded used the mapping system to identify where the situation was and officers were able to get there directly.

“My whole goal was, 'OK, if we can do this in Grapevine we can do it into surrounding cities,'" said O'Neal.

He became passionate about this project after forming relationships through community outreach with the staff and students at the different schools in Grapevine, specifically at Timberline Elementary in the Grapevine-Colleyville ISD.

“You always consider the babies and that they can't protect themselves, and so how can we respond here faster," said O'Neal thinking about student safety.

"We are so proud to know Officer O'Neal, he embodies a value of community that we have in Grapevine-Colleyville, specifically at Timberline he's a face that's in our halls almost every day that he can be. Our students know him, our staff knows him it truly is special to see him honored in a way that we know values and honors and validates the work that he does," said Liz Hilcher, the principal at Timberline, about his award.

"When Officer O'Neal comes in he's like a rock star, he gets lots of attention, high fives, fist bumps and smiles," continued Hilcher.

"When you've had an interaction with the families and I I've developed a lot of relationships with families, you kind of take that to heart," said O'Neal about keeping the students and staff safe.

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