The Eanes school district will create a school police department that will place a resource officer at all nine of its campuses west of Austin, school board members decided Tuesday.
The program comes weeks after the Legislature passed a bill requiring armed personnel on every school campus, but Eanes district leaders said this program had been in the works for months.
The district approved the $1.6 million program during a Tuesday night board meeting, though school board members can’t give final approval until they vote on the budget at the end of the month, Superintendent Jeff Arnett said.
The district already employs two safety and security directors with former police experience who will join the new department of 11 people, Arnett said.
“We were hearing from many parents in our community that were eager for more security on our campuses in light of the tragedies not only in Texas but around the country,” Arnett said.
The Eanes district decision comes on the heels of state lawmakers passing House Bill 3, a $330 million school safety bill that gives districts money for security improvements and requires armed personnel on every campus.
The bill was approved by the House and Senate, though Gov. Greg Abbott has yet to sign the bill. HB 3 was one of the school safety-related bills filed this legislative session in response to the mass school shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde on May 24, 2022, that left 19 children and two teachers dead.
The Eanes district has been considering creating its own police department since last fall, and while some parents enthusiastically supported the program, others were concerned about adding armed personnel to campuses, Arnett said.
“These individuals are not going to be traditional law enforcement,” Arnett said. “They’re going to be very much a part of the staff on our campus. They’re going to be working alongside teachers.”
Part of the officers’ jobs will include providing mental health-related resources, he said.
Though there aren’t specific studies that indicate an armed officer’s presence on campus deters people from attacking a school, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that the presence of officers deters criminal activity, said Michael Aspland, executive director of the Institute for Homeland Security at Sam Houston State University.
Having school resource officers assigned to a specific school also corresponds to a growing desire to create community policing programs, said Aspland, a former California school resource officer.
“You’re building relationships,” Aspland said. “You can’t arrest your way out of a problem. It requires the ability to collaborate.”
School resource officers could do home checks on students, give presentations on mental health, speak in classes and be present on the campus so students get used to them, he said.
“I would be out shooting baskets,” Aspland said. “You need to have people look past the badge.”
The Eanes district spends about $935,000 on security personnel, so the police department program — which would include a chief — will add $730,000 to the budget, he said.
Arnett estimates money from HB 3 will bring in about $100,000 to the Eanes district.
The district wants to hire for the new department jobs in summer, but it takes time to certify officers, so the program might not officially launch until next year, Arnett said.