The Lake Travis ISD board of trustees took the first step in establishing a districtwide police department during a Dec. 17 board meeting.

Trustees unanimously adopted a resolution authorizing Superintendent Paul Norton to begin the process of creating the LTISD PD. According to Norton, the new officers are expected on campus by the start of the 2021-22 school year.

LTISD currently contracts Travis County sheriff's officers to serve as school resource officers, or SROs. However, in light of the district’s continued growth, Norton said the development of a district-based PD is in students’ and staff’s best interests.

Officers would ensure safety both on campus and at district events and activities, according to Norton.

The LTISD PD would consist of one chief of police, who would report to the Superintendent, and five officers—an increase from the district’s three SROs.

Despite the additional officers, the PD would not impose a large budgetary impact, Norton said, adding that LTISD currently budgets over $600,000 for its contract with Travis County.

The initial one-time cost of developing the department is projected under $400,000 with a yearly price tag estimated at a little over half a million dollars, according to Norton. The majority of the development funding would include the cost of vehicles, guns, ammunition and badges, Norton said.

Bearing in mind the proposed increase in campus police presence, trustee Lauren White brought attention to nationwide disparities in disciplinary action.

“We’ve seen historically across the country and in Texas that more officers across the school sometimes means more students are referred to the criminal justice system, and there’s usually disparities in who that is,” White said. “How do we ensure that as the police force grows ... that we’re able to make sure that doesn’t happen to our students?”

Norton said an expectation of the PD is that the officers would build relationships with students, staff and administration. He added that the district will put an emphasis on positive engagements with students.

“It’s not a gotcha mentality,” Norton said. “It’s actually an additional resource for staff and for students.”

In developing its own PD, Norton said the district can use its own training in how to de-escalate situations on campus. Still, in the event of an on-campus emergency, LTISD would receive assistance from Lakeway, Bee Cave and Travis County.

LTISD’s next steps include gaining state approval for its department and hiring a chief, who will then ensure the proper training and qualifications of the additional officers.