The Sherman Police Department is proposing devoting an officer to serve as a full-time school resource officer for the Sherman Independent School District.
Police Chief Zachary Flores told the Sherman City Council about the School Resource Officer Program and the department’s plan to hire a new officer to fill the position during the city’s budget workshop Thursday. City staff are planning to include the new officer in the budget for the 2018-2019 fiscal year, which will be considered for approval by the council later this year.
“This is a hot button topic most everywhere now,” Flores said of school safety. “We have traditionally had and currently do provide officers at the high school, Piner, DAEP (disciplinary alternative education program) and Dillingham. The school (district) pays those officers directly. They (the officers) work as a contractor for the school on their days off using our equipment, and we allow them to do that.”
Flores explained that the officers at each of those schools often change depending on availability and sometimes aren’t even SPD officers.
“There’s officers from Whitesboro, officers from Grayson County, because a lot of our officers don’t want to spend their entire day dealing with juveniles,” Flores said. “They may choose not to do that or we may have other things going on and we just can’t have them there.”
Sherman ISD Superintendent David Hicks explained Friday why the district would prefer to have the same officers in each school on a daily basis.
“It’s very powerful because the officers develop personal and positive relationships with our kids,” Hicks said. “Our kids trust an officer that they see everyday and they’re able to work together to make sure that our school is safe and the officer is responding to any needs that staff or students have.”
In order to get to a point where the district could eventually have five to six full-time, student resource officers, Flores proposed a program that would start in the upcoming 2018-2019 school year with one student resource officer and the district paying 70 percent of that officer’s salary and benefit with the city paying the rest.
“Neither us nor the school want to jump in to the deep end right now because we don’t have the manpower and they want to ease into it as well,” Flores said. “What we’ve taken to the school is start with one, full-time officer that we would assign as a school resource officer, supplemented with contract officers at other campuses. So they would still have the same amount of coverage but one would be the same one everyday. ”
City Manager Robby Hefton said he’s had several conversations with Hicks and the district’s “vision is much grander” than just one dedicated officer.
“Their vision is to have several of these officers,” Hefton said Thursday. “They don’t really need an officer at the elementary campuses, but their vision is to have a staff of school resource officers in the five to six range. I think a couple of officers at Sherman High School, one at Piner, one at Dillingham, one at DAEP and then maybe one that is kind of a floater.”
Hefton said getting five full-time school resource officers is going to cost the district more money than it is currently paying for the program.
“But I don’t think we should be paying 50-50 for this program,” Hefton said. “I think we’re being good neighbors by paying even 30 percent of it. I think this kind of model is probably more consistent in what you see in other school districts around Texas. This is really just the first step into the water of this, but their goal is two years from now to have this program fully implemented, I believe.”
Hicks confirmed Friday the district has discussed a phase-in for the plan starting with one school resource officer for the coming year and getting up to five by the 2020-2021 school year, which is when the new Sherman High School is currently scheduled to open.
“Certainly if we can afford six, we’ve talked about (it) in that range,” Hicks said, calling the program a “great opportunity” for Sherman ISD. “It’s a result of a strong partnership with the city that we’re able to improve safety and security by building an SRO program. School resource officers have specialized training in working with adolescents and in crime prevention and there’s also potential to work with our police explorer group. It’s all kinds of potential that is just positive when we have the same officer all the time.”
Hicks said Sherman ISD is also currently in its budget planning phase for the new fiscal year.
Flores said there has also been discussion of Sherman ISD paying for half the cost of a patrol vehicle over three years to allow those school resource officers to have a vehicle available while at the schools.
“One of the benefits that does have a dollar value is that it would prevent our officers that are on the streets taking care of ancillary calls from having to respond to the school to deal with something,” the Sherman Police chief said. “Because as it stands right now, those officers that go to work off duty drive their pickup out there and if they arrest somebody, then they have to call us and then we have to go out there anyway. So there is a need for them to have a vehicle out there.”
Flores said one approach to getting that vehicle could be holding onto older vehicles for longer.
“We’re absolutely willing to look at things like that, which may very well be the route that we go,” he said. “We don’t have an issue with that, but if it gets to the point that do need to be purchasing new cars, I think the good fiscal thing to do would be to have the school pay for half of that as well.”
Deputy Mayor Pam Howeth, who retired from the district at the end of the 2016-2017 school year after 41 years at Sherman High, said it’s important district employees know school resource officers aren’t there to enforce things like dress code and tardiness. Flores agreed and said the interlocal agreement that would be signed between the city and district would spell all of that out.
“What we don’t want is an officer to go up and address a kid because they’re late for class and that kid elevate the situation and then the next thing you know we’re in a fight because the kid was late for class,” Flores said. “We are fortunate enough to be a city a size that we can make this thing work. This is the structure that as a staff we have talked about we think makes some sense.”
Howeth then praised the Sherman Police officers she saw dealing with students after different incidents had escalated to the point where they needed to get involved.
“I can say, because my window looked out to where they always arrested the students and took them to the car, that they were always very tactful,” Howeth said to Flores. “Your officers always did a very nice job. I never saw a confrontation going out to the police car. So somehow by the time they are in handcuffs and headed out, it all seems to have smoothed out.”
When asked about the frequency of student arrests at Sherman High School, both Howeth and Flores said it is a rare occurrence.
“It’s not on too frequent of a basis now because some state laws have changed that have put the responsibility back on the school to handle the school district,” Flores said. “But there are still absolutely times when situations arise.”
Hicks said the proposed expansion of the School Resource Officer Program would not alter the district’s proposed security policy that would permit district staff members with previous law enforcement experience to carry firearms on campus.
“It enhances our safety and security plan, but it doesn’t impact the other,” Hicks said.
The Sherman ISD board of trustees held a public hearing last month to gather comments on the state-named “Guardian Plan.” The board heard from around a dozen parents, educators and Sherman residents, including supporters and those opposed to the plan.
Under a modified version of the plan, the district would allow staff members who previously earned a Texas peace officer certification and were honorably discharged from service to carry a concealed firearm while on campus. Hicks previously said the program would be voluntary and would require participants to undergo a psychological evaluation, initial and annual informational training, as well as range and active-shooter simulation firearms training.