On April 19 Round Rock Police Chief Allen Banks, Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody and Round Rock ISD Superintendent Steve Flores released a joint letter endorsing the creation of a district police department. Now the district is evaluating its options to implement a new school resource officer, or SRO, program.
“The option we don’t have is to leave our schools uncovered,” said Daniel Presley, senior chief of schools and innovation for RRISD.
Presley said the conversation about a district police department began in March 2017 when Banks notified the district that—due to staffing issues—RRPD could not continue to furnish school resource officers beyond the 2020-21 academic year.
Banks said that as the community grows, RRPD needs more officers on the streets, which could leave the district at a disadvantage.
“When you have more than 45,000 students and only a few SROs safeguarding those students, I don’t think that number is fair,” Banks said.
RRISD currently has roughly 48,500 students at 55 campuses. By comparison, Garland ISD has about 57,000 students at 72 campuses and does not have its own department while Katy ISD, which has more than 70,000 students at 60 campuses, does have its own department.
Currently, the district pays SROs from RRPD, WCSO and Austin Community College to cover its campuses. When fully staffed, the district has 23 SROs, but that number changes depending on the availability of officers, Presley said. The total number of SROs is also dependent on department staffing. For example, there is currently an empty SRO position at Grisham Middle School for which WCSO is seeking candidates.
Presley said that working with three separate law-enforcement entities creates “patchwork” coverage and with those entities dealing with needs outside of the district, there are often holes in coverage.
“From a management standpoint and a strategic planning standpoint, we would be in the same situation every summer asking, ‘Where do we have gaps?’ And we would have no control over that,” said Jenny LaCoste-Caputo, executive director of communications and community relations for the district. “But if we had our own department, staffing decisions would be made here, and we wouldn’t have to worry about an officer being pulled because there was a shortage somewhere in the community.”
Banks said that he believes it would be beneficial for the district to have one law-enforcement entity that responds to the superintendent.
Presley said if the district were to move forward with its own department, he does not anticipate the same staffing challenges that law-enforcement entities are facing.
“It’s a really different market that you go for to hire police officers for an ISD,” Presley said.
The district is continuing to gather information regarding costs for the board of trustees to consider.
The current SRO program costs RRISD about $2,252,384 per year with salaries and overtime pay for events such as sports games. At a May board meeting, Presley presented estimated costs for a three-year phase-in of the department. The estimates include salaries and benefits for a police chief, 24 SROs and a dispatcher as well as one-time costs. By year three, Presley estimated that the total cost for the fully-staffed department would be $2,254,541, including one-time costs.
SROs hired by the district would receive the same SRO training as those that come from the police department and sheriff’s office, Presley said.
If the board does decide to move forward with a district police department, Presley said one of the first steps in the process would be to hire a police chief who could then begin hiring SROs, which he estimates would take between two and four months.
Banks and Chody both stated that they would help the district during the transition period should the district move forward.
“We’ll still be here as a partner; we’ll be here to help train school resource officers,” Banks said. “We have a great relationship with Round Rock ISD, and we just want to help them continue to be successful.”