Del Valle ISD could create its own police department with Tuesday board vote

Travis County

If the board approves the proposal, it would continue a trend among Texas school districts since the 2018 shooting at Sante Fe High School outside Houston.

TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Another new school district police department could be in the works if the Del Valle ISD board of trustees approves the plan Tuesday.

The proposal, brought to the board by David Lopez, Del Valle High School’s assistant principal and a former police officer, would replace the seven Travis County Sheriff’s Office deputies currently working at district schools with the same number of officers hired on the district payroll. Lopez stressed that the deputies provide good service to the four schools they patrol, but a district department would give administrators more control.

“It would be apples to apples,” Lopez said. He presented the idea to the board last month. If members vote to approve it Tuesday, a district department could be in place as early as next school year.

A DVISD police force would cost about $96,000 more in the first year due to startup and equipment costs, according to district figures, but it would be about $223,000 cheaper each year after that. The majority of the startup costs — $309,600 of the $319,100 in total cost — would be covered by bond money under the proposal.

(KXAN/Andrew Choat)

“The timeline would be to get this up and running by next school year,” Lopez said.

Board of trustees member Ann Heuberger is concerned about starting the department so quickly. “For me, it’s a very ambitious timeline,” she said at the January meeting where the proposal was introduced. “It seems rushed for such a major decision.”

In an email last week, Heuberger said she stands by those concerns. A parent raised a similar worry with KXAN, saying a month between the proposal’s introduction and a board vote is not enough time to get public feedback.

Lopez said since it’s not a big department, it won’t be difficult to replace the deputies with district officers. He’s been in touch with other local school districts that have made the change, and his proposal would phase in the new department over the course of several months leading up to the 2020-21 school year.

Benefits to students

Lopez also pointed to benefits for students outside of the district’s cost savings. “To have policy and procedure that is aligned with the district and the district’s goals is important,” he said.

One such goal is to work more closely with Del Valle High School’s criminal justice classes.

Frank Juarez, Jr., also a former police officer, teaches 142 students in various courses exploring the world of law enforcement. He thinks the proposal is a good opportunity: “I welcome it 100%.”

“I’m looking towards hopefully getting an internship with the school district police department or force,” he said. An arrangement like that, he believes, would allow students to get a better view of the internal workings of a department.

Continuing a statewide trend

Manor ISD and Round Rock ISD are both in the process of creating their own police departments. If the Del Valle ISD board of trustees decides to move forward, all three will represent a growing trend among Texas school districts.

Since 2015, according to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE), 79 school districts have created police forces, and three more (including Manor ISD) have petitioned the regulating agency but have not yet received approval.

The biggest spike, TCOLE numbers show, came in 2018 following the shooting at Sante Fe High School outside Houston, when a gunman killed 10 people and injured 13 more. Two-thirds of the new departments in the last five years were created after that incident.

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