ISD police want say in school safety talks
Many present during gathering say they have been left out
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.”
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.”