This is such a mess.
Multiple Houston-area school districts say they can’t staff all of their campuses with armed district police officers as the upcoming school year begins, forcing them to seek alternatives to comply with a new state law addressing school safety.
Texas lawmakers passed House Bill 3, which goes into effect Sept. 1, during the most recent regular legislative session. It mandates that districts must have a district peace officer, school resource officer or commissioned peace officer at every school during school hours and establishes other safety protocols and requirements.
Several local school districts, including Houston Independent School District, already have a police officer stationed at every middle school and high school, and they have additional officers who rotate among several elementary schools. Soon, every district in the state must have one armed officer stationed at every campus, leading to a significant expansion of the police force in some districts.
With about three months’ notice, districts throughout Texas have been desperately competing with each other — along with local city police departments and other law enforcement agencies — to try to hire enough officers to station at every campus amid a nationwide police staffing shortage.
To comply with the law, some school districts are increasing incentives for applicants to join their ranks, including by raising officer base pay and implementing shorter contracts. At least one district says it is recruiting cadets to join the district straight out of the police academy.
HISD state-appointed Superintendent Mike Miles said the district plans to expand its police force by 166 officers, but it’s going to be “very difficult to achieve.” To recruit more officers, the district announced in July that it was increasing the salaries and sign-on bonuses for police officers this year, raising the pay for a 12-month contract from $59,091 to $63,800.
Some district and police officials are simply admitting that no matter what they do, it’s not possible for them to hire enough police officers within the time period. Dan Turner, Alief ISD’s chief of police, said he previously was having problems filling a few vacant police officer positions before HB 3 passed, and now he is trying to hire at least 32 new officers.
“There’s all these school districts in the state of Texas and charter schools and whoever else trying to hire police officers or armed guards at once,” Turner said. “I just don’t see where we’re going to be able to meet that mandate come Sept. 1 because those officers just aren’t out there to hire.”
State lawmakers passed the legislation partly in response to the shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde last year, where a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers.
In addition to mandating armed officers, HB 3 requires annual intruder detection audits, evidence-based mental health training for certain employees and active-shooter training for their officers at least once every four years.
It also provides $15,000 per campus and an additional $10 per student to fund all the security upgrades. Some school districts say that funding is not enough for all the required expenses and leaves them on their own to resolve funding gaps that are exceeding well over $1 million.
Ginger touched on this in the August 19 Dispatches. So to review, there’s not enough time to hire enough officers, school districts are bidding up the salaries for these officers because they’re competing with one another (and with charter schools) to hire them, the mandate was largely unfunded despite the billions of extra revenue the state has, some districts are desperate enough to hire cadets fresh out of academies, and all of this was the Lege’s response to Uvalde. How is hiring rookie cops going to make kids safer? We all know that Texas law enforcement agencies routinely hire cops that have been fired or made to resign multiple times for being terrible and corrupt, and this is going to be a job fair for those losers. I guarantee you, we will be reading about tragedies and scandals resulting from this for years to come. All because Republicans absolutely refuse to do anything about guns.