During a special meeting right before January 11’s regular meeting, the Elgin ISD school board was presented with the options available for on-campus security.
“We have been working with the Elgin Police Department and have had (school resource officers) for a very long time,” Elgin ISD Superintendent Dr. Duron said. “As we continue to grow, we are looking at options that might be better suited for us. … As we’ve done our research, we found several options that we could entertain as we are going through this growing phase.”
The presentation was delivered by Matthew West, the director of safety and risk management for Elgin ISD with 21 years of law enforcement experience.
According to state education law, a school board can employ armed or unarmed security personnel, enter into an agreement with a local law enforcement agency for school resource officers (SROs) or develop a district police department with its own peace officers
SROs are employed by a city police department, sheriff’s office or constable’s office and require a memorandum of understanding between the school district and the law enforcement agency supplying the officers. SROs must be licensed through the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) and have completed the TCOLE courses for school-based law enforcement and active shooter response. SROs are overseen by the local law enforcement agency of which the SROs are full- or part-time employees.
“There is no difference between the patrol officer you see patrolling the streets and the patrol officers that are assigned as school resource officers,” West said. “They pull them a lot of times to work weekends or summertime to supplement their regular patrol force.”
An SRO through EPD costs about $116,262 per year. EPD increased the fee by three percent for 2021, and K9 services are no longer available. Elgin ISD pays just 71% of the cost for the officers who work as SROs, since those officers return to regular patrol duties during the summer.
The school district can also hire armed or unarmed uniformed security officers.
Armed school security officers would need to be commissioned by a law enforcement agency and would also require a memorandum of understanding with that agency. Similar to SROs, they would also be licensed by TCOLE and would be required to take certain courses about school-based law enforcement and active shooter response.
“If they are not conditioned by a law enforcement agency, they would not have any authorization to carry a weapon,” West said. “The district also has the option of creating an unarmed security force. The closest thing would be like mall security, where they’re wearing a uniform, but they have no arrest authority and they have no weapons.”
Some districts use unarmed security to respond to alarms, and if properly trained, these officers can also teach certain safety courses to students.
The security officers would be employees of the district. ISD security officers would require equipment, which may include uniforms, duty gear and vehicles, which may or may not be a traditional police car.
Hiring one director and three officers as armed security would cost about $424,112 in the first year and about $315,392 per year afterwards. This includes the cost of uniforms, equipment, vehicles, technology and the salaries of one department director and three officers.
Finally, the school district could create its own police department. Its officers must meet all TCOLE standards and also complete courses on school-based law enforcement and active shooter response.
The new department must apply to be a police agency, comply with other record-keeping and reporting requirements and create an agreement with agencies with overlapping jurisdictions. If there is no in-house dispatch department, the district must have a contract with another agency to handle dispatch services.
The cost to start an ISD police department would be an estimated $634,984 in the first year; recurring costs would be about $405,844 per year. This includes uniforms, equipment, vehicles and vehicle maintenance, technology, a contract with police dispatch and the salaries for a police chief, an administrative assistant and three officers. This startup cost estimate assumes that the vehicles and equipment would be new, but the school district may be able to get surplus equipment and used vehicles, West said.
Duron said the district is not making any decisions at that meeting, but wanted to present the options to the board. Instead of just two, as in the past, the district is looking at potentially having three officers: one for the middle school, one for the high school and one to rotate between the elementary schools.
“Simply because of the size we are, I don't believe that we are ready for a full-blown police department,” Duron said. “As we continue to grow, I think that is going to be an option and will probably be the direction the district wants to go. I think the next step for us will be looking at armed security officers.”