EDITORIAL: Protecting our schools is no simple challenge
In last week’s edition, we reported that the Liberty Hill Independent School District is researching the idea of creating a police department. In light of the latest school shooting in Florida, it is a timely topic that we believe is worthy of community support.
However, there are elements of creating a police department inside the schools that the ISD leadership and the taxpaying parents should take under consideration.
Once police officers are introduced into the student population there is no going back. In Texas, all law enforcement officers are licensed by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, or TCOLE. All officers have the same exact training. A rookie police officer in Houston, the 4th largest city in the nation has the exact same training as a new Liberty Hill Independent School District officer will have.
Although under a school-based law enforcement model, the ISD officers will answer to an internal Chief of Police, who in turn will answer ultimately to the School Superintendent, the officer has a higher requirement to the law, not to school officials. This is often misunderstood and gets tricky when mixed with students, local politics and an employer more used to the conduct of teachers, coaches, janitors, secretaries and school bus drivers than cops.
Law enforcement officers are licensed by the state, not their employer. They have continual education and training requirements that must be met annually. Officers have legal obligations that no other employee in a school district have to meet. A law enforcement officer can legally stop, question, detain, arrest and use force to achieve a result. Officers are not glorified babysitters. They can use a stun gun, like a Taser, and ultimately a gun to gain control of a situation. They do not have to check in with anyone in order to maintain the peace of a community.
Some of the pitfalls of having a police presence in the schools often comes when educators begin to look to police officers to solve ordinary disciplinary issues in the school. When the officer begins to be seen as the disciplinarian they often fall into conflict about their role.
Conflicts also arise in the unequal administration of justice. The future LHISD Police will shoulder the burden of treating all students equally, regardless of family, income, or station in life. Communities often are more forgiving to those we know, who are more like us and we prosecute those who aren’t. When you are wearing a badge and gun, the treatment of those in your custody, even in your presence evolve into a legal state of heightened scrutiny. The absolute benign execution of the law is imperative for success.
We believe experience matters in law enforcement. The ISD leadership would do well to look to find officers who have spent many years in policing in Texas for these positions. There are super qualified officers in the Austin-Central Texas area who are uniquely experienced in law enforcement and school-based law enforcement. When the final task of hiring officers for these positions takes place we hope the ISD will broaden its reach by adding qualified law enforcement experts to the hiring panel. It would just make sense.
Communities rightly turn to law enforcement to seek safety for our families and property. Law enforcement in Texas rightly comes with jurisdiction and authority. Texas law even demands action from its officers. An officer must act if there exists the reasonable expectation that they should act. So, there is no hiding outdoors in Texas when a shooter is inside the school. The officer’s oath to the law and the law itself demands the officer take action.
Liberty Hill is experiencing incredible growth in its schools. There is nothing more sacred than the safety of our students and faculty. In fact, schools should be the safest places we can imagine. The recent tragedies are challenging our leaders to prepare for the future. We are sure that at some point we will need officers in our schools and forming a local school district police department seems like the smartest route to take. However, everyone should prepare themselves for making sure that whatever we do—that we bring the highest professionalism and integrity to the task of protecting our greatest investment in the future, the school children of Liberty Hill.