Launch of Manor and Del Valle ISD police forces will free 13 deputies for other duties

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Now that the final inspection process is back on track to get the new Manor and Del Valle ISD police departments online, more than a dozen Travis County Sheriff’s Office deputies assigned to those campuses could move to alternative duties.

KXAN discovered this week that eleven newly formed Texas police departments couldn’t open until they received a final inspection from the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement. Those onsite visits were halted by an order from the governor’s office due to coronavirus, according to TCOLE.

After KXAN started asking Gov. Greg Abbott’s office about the delay, Abbott’s office granted an exception to TCOLE to conduct final inspections and certify the departments. Once a department is approved by TCOLE and receives an identification number, it can begin operating.

Beyond Manor and Del Valle, six other school districts and three other municipalities across the state were awaiting final inspections by TCOLE. Kim Vickers, executive director of TCOLE, said his agency will resume inspections after Memorial Day.

“All it takes, when the governor gives us the OK to go out, is to run out and do a quick inspection and tell them OK, and that day they can have their number,” Vickers said in an interview before the governor granted the exception.

Ready for Inspection

Manor ISD spokesperson Angel Vidal told KXAN opening their police department soon would allow new officers to gain familiarity with the district and complete training before schools reopen in the fall.

“We are currently ready for and optimistic about our walk. We continue to prepare the department by ensuring we have all the necessary equipment that will allow for a smooth opening, once the walk is complete,” Vidal said in an email Wednesday.

According to a timeline presented to its school board in March, Manor ISD expected the walk-through inspection by TCOLE to happen that month and to have a police chief already named at this point.

The launch of the Manor and Del Valle ISD police departments means the Travis County Sheriff’s Office will no longer need to provide 13 deputies to serve as school resource officers at all middle school and high school campuses in those two school districts. TCSO also provides resource officers for Lake Travis, Leander and the Eanes school districts.

The school districts pay TCSO for those resource officers. In budget documents, MISD said the Sheriff’s Office would be charging the district $1.28 million for six school resource officers by 2022-2023. But, MISD said it could operate its own department with 13 officers by 2023 for $1.3 million.

Del Valle ISD determined it could maintain its own police force at roughly $654,000 a year, which would offer an annual savings of nearly a quarter million dollars compared to TCSO’s most recent yearly fee of about $877,000 for seven officers, according to district board records.

Vickers said there has been a “tremendous” expansion of ISD police departments since a series of mass shootings in recent years, including a 2018 shooting at Santa Fe High School south of Houston in which 10 people were killed and 10 more wounded.

TCSO Public Information Officer Kristen Dark said since the COVID-19 school closures, all 20 of their deputies who were providing SRO services have been temporarily reassigned. They’ve been doing other duties such as serving at COVID-19 testing sites and providing extra patrol – anywhere the TCSO has a need, she said.

Once Del Valle and Manor ISD have their school police departments up and running, the 13 TCSO deputies will be reassigned permanently. Dark said no one will lose their job.

It is not clear yet how the changes will impact the sheriff’s office overall budget.

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