Williamson Co. sheriff proposes plan to take over RRISD policing

Williamson County

In the midst of Round Rock ISD taking steps to form its own police department, the Williamson County sheriff has put a plan on the table to take over school safety for the district.

The move comes after the Round Rock Police Department told RRISD starting in 2021 it can no longer provide school resource officers.

In a tweet Tuesday, Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody said he still supports the district running its own police department, but wanted the public to know he shared a $2.7 million proposal with RRISD several weeks ago.

“I didn’t want to get backlash for something we are willing to do — in fact, we are trying to help by doing this,” said Sheriff Chody.

A breakdown of the proposal includes $1.3 million to cover about 22 school resource officers, plus supervisors, a $14,000 K-9 and a one-time start-up fee of $1.3 million for equipment.

Currently, the district pays Round Rock police and the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office a total of $2.25 million to provide school resource officers. RRISD covers the salaries for the officers nine months out of the year since most are not on campuses during the summer months.

Sheriff Chody’s proposal would require the district to pay deputies year-round, but several members of the school district’s citizen bond committee believe it’s a better option and would save the district money.

“They’re rushing and as we know when you are in school, you should do your homework first,” said Pamela Oldham. 

In April, KXAN first reported on RRISD exploring the option of starting its own police force. A joint letter signed by the superintendent, the Round Rock police chief and the Williamson County Sheriff said the existing arrangement creates gaps in coverage:

“For example, Pearson Ranch Middle School is currently staffed by an officer from Austin Community College and the full-time position at Grisham Middle School is now vacant … this patchwork approach is a concern.”

If RRISD forms its own police department, it will have direct oversight over recruitment and staffing, but will also incur all costs associated with salaries, equipment and vehicles. 

During a school board meeting last week, the district estimated it would cost about $2.25 million to run its own department, but that is not the full picture. The preliminary numbers did not include paying for a headquarters, insurance and an annual operating budget.

“It will definitely be a cost increase, but we can’t put a price on the security of our schools,” said RRISD spokesperson Jenny Lacoste-Caputo.

RRISD says the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office currently has vacant positions on campuses they have not been able to fill.

The ultimate decision will be up to the RRISD school board. Tuesday, School Board President Diane M. Cox sent KXAN the following statement:

The Board of Trustees appreciates the partnerships we have forged with law enforcement agencies—the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office, the Round Rock Police Department, and Austin Community College—to provide protection and security for our campuses. But, as clearly explained in a joint letter from Sheriff Robert Chody, Police Chief Allen Banks and Dr. Steve Flores, our local law enforcement agencies simply do not have the manpower to both staff our schools and maintain enough presence on the streets to protect the community. For example, we currently have schools usually staffed by Williamson County deputies with no SRO on duty because they’ve been pulled for work elsewhere in the community. This demonstrates the struggle they face to meet even the current needs, much less ramping up to fully staff the entire District. We are exploring the possibility of our own police department, which will allow the District to control staffing decisions and ensure our campuses are as safe as possible. This is how many districts across the state handle policing. In fact, Round Rock ISD is the largest district in the state that does not have its own department.

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