ISD po­lice want say in school safety talks

Many present dur­ing gath­er­ing say they have been left out

Houston Chronicle - - CITY | STATE - By Shelby Webb shelby.webb@chron.com twit­ter.com/shel­by­webb

As state and lo­cal law­mak­ers dis­cuss the best ways to keep stu­dents safe, in­de­pen­dent school district po­lice of­fi­cers say they’ve been left on the side­lines.

A group of about 20 of­fi­cers from lo­cal in­de­pen­dent school district po­lice de­part­ments and other law en­force­ment agen­cies gath­ered Wed­nes­day at the Sea­sons 52 res­tau­rant in Up­per Kirby to brain­storm ways to im­prove school se­cu­rity.

Those gath­ered said the lunch meet­ing, or­ga­nized by PBK Ar­chi­tects, was one of the first times their opin­ions have been sought on how to best pro­tect stu­dents.

“It seems like politi­cians have turned their backs on us, and we’re try­ing to pro­tect our most im­por­tant as­set — our chil­dren,” said Hum­ble ISD Po­lice Chief Solomon Cook.

No seat at the table

Of more than 120 peo­ple in­vited to speak at Gov. Greg Ab­bott’s three re­cent round­tables on school safety, for ex­am­ple, Santa Fe ISD Po­lice Of­fi­cer Johnny Banda was the only per­son to rep­re­sent a school district po­lice de­part­ment. A May 18 mass shoot­ing killed 10 peo­ple and in­jured 13 others at Santa Fe High School, prompt­ing a re­newed de­bate on the school safety is­sue in Texas.

An­other at­tendee, Chief Allen Banks of the Round Rock Po­lice De­part­ment, is work­ing to es­tab­lish an ISD po­lice de­part­ment for the cen­tral Texas district. At least five school district lead­ers were in­vited to the gov­er­nor’s meet­ings, in­clud­ing some who work on safety and se­cu­rity is­sues but are not af­fil­i­ated with ISD po­lice de­part­ments. About 30 teachers, stu­dents, par­ents and Texas Ed­u­ca­tion Agency of­fi­cials also at­tended, along with sur­vivors of mass shoot­ings.

Ab­bott’s office did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment Wed­nes­day evening. How­ever, he pre­vi­ously said: “I am seek­ing the best so­lu­tions to make our schools more se­cure and to keep our com­mu­ni­ties safe.”

Al­dine ISD Po­lice Chief Craig Go­ral­ski, who also serves as sec­ond vice pres­i­dent for the Texas School District Po­lice Chiefs’ As­so­ci­a­tion, said the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s pres­i­dent asked to be in­cluded in one of the roundtable dis­cus­sions but was never given per­mis­sion or an in­vi­ta­tion to at­tend.

“We’re not so sure our voice mat­ters, at least not to the gov­er­nor or his office,” Go­ral­ski said. “We will con­tinue to work with leg­is­la­tors who want to work with school district po­lice chiefs, but it’s go­ing to take more than just one voice.”

‘We’re here’

In Hous­ton, the only ISD law en­force­ment of­fi­cer on Mayor Sylvester Turner’s 37-per­son Com­mis­sion Against Gun Vi­o­lence is Hous­ton ISD Po­lice Chief Paul Cordova. Alan Bern­stein, com­mu­ni­ca­tions direc­tor for the City of Hous­ton, noted that a slew of other law en­force­ment of­fi­cials were named to the com­mis­sion, in­clud­ing Hous­ton Po­lice Chief Art Acevedo and Har­ris County Sher­iff Ed Gon­za­lez, as well as par­ents and stu­dents from other nearby school dis­tricts.

“There are other peo­ple in the com­mu­nity who can and will serve as out­side re­sources. The com­mis­sion has al­ready lined up some of these peo­ple,” Bern­stein said. “I’m sure the chair of the com­mis­sion will en­joy hear­ing from any­one who feels like their ex­pe­ri­ence and knowl­edge will help.”

Cook said most ISD po­lice chiefs would be glad to share their con­cerns with any politi­cian will­ing to lis­ten.

“I don’t want to sound neg­a­tive with this,” Cook said. “I just want to make sure peo­ple un­der­stand we’re here and we have a wealth of in­for­ma­tion that could help make the sys­tem bet­ter.”

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