Hitchcock Independent School District is forming its own police department, just a month after a gunman killed 10 and wounded more than a dozen others at neighboring Santa Fe High School.
“We are still working out all of the details,” Superintendent Carla Vickroy said. “In light of the increase in school violence, we are looking for ways to increase security for our schools.”
The district’s board of trustees voted unanimously to move school security to an in-house police department that will be formed before the next school year, Trustee Ted Robinson Jr. said.
The city had supplied police officers to the school district. City officials had been pushing the district to sign a new contract that would have increased the yearly cost of providing two officers from about $88,000 to about $137,000, Mayor Dorothy Childress said.
Although the city’s request affected the thinking, the decision wasn’t made overnight, Robinson said.
“It’s something we’ve been contemplating doing for more than two years,” Robinson said.
The plan is to hire a police sergeant and two officers and have all three of them patrol district campuses, Robinson said.
By creating a district police department, officials would be able to implement their own school-specific procedures and protocols, Robinson said.
The city’s police department could also be strained by recent cuts and adding an additional officer would help with security, Robinson said.
City officials more than three months ago made deep budget cuts that included four police department layoffs, leaving the department with 19 staff members, including 13 police officers and six support staff members. Despite the cuts, the police department was still operating with a $30,000 deficit, Childress said in an earlier interview.
One option to reduce the deficit was a new contract with the school district for the two officers assigned for campus security, officials said.
The average police officer costs the city about $60,000 a year in salaries and benefits, and the school district in the 2000-2001 school year paid the city $145,000 for two resource officers, records show.
But the amount the district pays each year incrementally declined to just $88,000 most recently, leaving the city to cover about $32,000 of the cost, Childress said.
Officials attributed the decreased payment amount to a nine-month contract, instead of a yearly contract, because the district didn’t need officers during the summer, Commissioner Monica Cantrell said.
“I hate it,” Cantrell said. “But that’s just how it is. What the city was proposing is unreasonable. It’s very sad that it came to this, but I don’t blame the district at all.”
Many details of the district’s police department aren’t yet decided, but the cost should be about $30,000 more than what the city was proposing, Robinson said.
“The only real start-up cost is cars,” Robinson said.
Childress initially said she was loath to eliminate the two officers’ positions, but that if she couldn’t reach a new agreement with the district, their positions would be eliminated.
Childress was not available to be interviewed Wednesday because of a family emergency, she said through a representative.
“We will post the positions when we are ready to hire and anyone can apply for those positions,” Vickroy said. “We will certainly consider the officers that we already have, as well as any officer that applies.”
School safety has increasingly become a topic of conversation in Galveston County in the month and two days since 10 people were killed inside Santa Fe High School. Several area school districts have formed security committees to discuss school safety.
The Hitchcock school district still will have to go through a process before it can form its own police department, said Gretchen Grigsby, spokeswoman for the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement.
“It goes through our agency and involves an application process and an on-site visit to make sure statutory minimums are met,” Grigsby said.
School district police departments must adhere to the section of the Texas Occupation Code about forming law enforcement agencies, which includes having an evidence room and a communications center, among other items, Grigsby said.
Galveston and Santa Fe are the two county school districts that already have their own police departments. The sheriff’s department provides campus security for several other school districts in the county.