Liability, jurisdiction concerns slow City’s SRO decision

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

A memorandum of understanding (MOU) was presented to the City Council Monday, spelling out an agreement between the City and Liberty Hill ISD to provide two school resource officers for the district, but lingering questions held up approval once again.

Mayor Rick Hall said an agreement had been reached with the Williamson County Sheriff’s Department that would resolve previously mentioned jurisdictional questions due to three campuses – Bill Burden Elementary, Rancho Sienna Elementary, and Liberty Hill High School – being outside the city limits.

“We also have created an inter-local agreement between the Liberty Hill Police Department and (Williamson County) Sheriff’s Department giving LHPD jurisdiction at all the schools outside of the city limits,” Hall said.

City Attorney Dottie Palumbo said more clarification and consideration is needed regarding the jurisdiction issue.

“One of the issues in this agreement is the police department can’t contract on its own, so the agreement with the sheriff’s department really needs to be between the County and the City,” she said. “One of the issues I was researching is the jurisdictional issue that was brought up. The recommended practice is for the schools you have a school resource officer at be annexed into the city, so that could be a request that the city could make. Then you’re not going to have jurisdictional problems when they’re on campus.”

Annexation as an option was brought up by City Administrator Greg Boatright at the last council meeting, but was not discussed at either meeting as an option.

Palumbo added that liability was not addressed definitively in the MOU either.

“I believe we ought to table this,” said Council Member Ron Rhea, who spelled out some of his concerns.

“Who is going to be in charge? Also, who is going to be primary and secondary when it comes to a lawsuit? We have to have these things worked out,” Rhea said.

There was no further discussion on these questions among council members, and the item was ultimately tabled unanimously pending the solutions to those concerns.

Rhea also said he preferred the program begin with the new year and not Aug. 1, and he was concerned about “hidden costs” in this program, though the council never addressed the financial side of the agreement as presented Monday.

In an attachment, the estimated annual cost for the SRO program is $205,827 for two officers, vehicles, equipment and training.

The MOU is currently worded to cover the next two school years, and obligates the City to cover 50 percent of the cost of the program, which is estimated at $102,913.50.

The agreement also says, “…the Liberty Hill Police Department shall provide other officers as, in its sole discretion, manpower and circumstances allow, during regularly-scheduled school hours and sessions,” and states that resource officers will be present within the district for the entire school day unless otherwise directed by the Liberty Hill Police Department due to off-campus emergencies or administrative requirements.

Among the duties specified for resource officers are to address all incidents on campuses that require law enforcement intervention, maintain high visibility, coordinate communication between the district and police department, assist with campus traffic control, and make classroom and faculty presentations.

The selection of the resource officers will be mutually agreed upon between the district and police department, according to the MOU.

Multiple meetings have taken place between Hall, Police Chief Maverick Campbell, Assistant Superintendent Chad Pirtle and Superintendent Rob Hart from Liberty Hill ISD in May and June.

In June, the school board authorized Pirtle and Hart to negotiate a MOU with the City of Liberty Hill utilizing two Liberty Hill police officers to serve as SROs for the school district. The City Council voted at its last meeting June 25 to allow Hall to put together the MOU and bring it back with more details in place.

While the Council did not approve the MOU this week, it did vote unanimously to allow Palumbo to begin preparations to seek grant funding through the School Violence Prevention Program.

“In research that I did over the weekend, I’ll have to add a lot more to this agreement to try and use it as a basis for qualifying for grant funding,” she said of the current MOU.

The grant can cover portions of the cost for training, equipment, technology, materials and assessments of the school system.

Mike@LHIndependent.com

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