Do You Want to Start a Police Department?

By Dr. Carol Simpson, Shareholder

Eichelbaum Wardell Hansen Powell & Mehl, P.C.

Should a district form a police department? As with all things legal, the answer is “it depends.”  Some districts are located in an area where local law enforcement is 15 to 20 minutes away or longer.  For an active shooter, that’s a long time to wait before help comes.  Other districts may have contracted with the local police or sheriff’s department, but because of more demand for their services the schools don’t believe that they are getting enough protections from the officers.  So for whatever reason, if your district would like to start a police department, this article will outline the various steps involved.

Texas Education Code § 37.081 allows districts to employ “security personnel” and to “commission peace officers.”  Various types of law enforcement personnel are considered “peace officers,” but the one most commonly associated with school police force is the police officer.  If a school district wants to authorize its security forces to carry weapons, the employees must be commissioned police officers.  Generally, those officers come from two places: a local law enforcement agency or the school district’s own police department.

To begin the process, the district will want to conduct a needs assessment.  Why do you need a police department? Perhaps, as noted above, local law enforcement is spread too thin, or the district has encountered a serious drug problem.  A needs assessment is a required part of the process to set up a department, and it will law out the language for the second step, the resolution.

The Board of Trustees must pass a resolution establishing the department.  The resolution sets the jurisdiction of the department, authorizes peace officers to carry weapons and enforce laws, gives the peace officers the powers and immunities of peace officers, allows mutual aid between departments, requires all officers to be licensed by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE), authorizes all officers to execute a bond, and authorizes the superintendent to negotiate memoranda of understanding with local police agencies and file the necessary application for an agency number (without which the district may not hire officers). With the authority granted by the resolution, the superintendent proceeds to step three.

The superintendent negotiates a memorandum of understanding with the local law enforcement branches the district’s jurisdiction overlaps.  The MOU will detail communications coordination, mutual aid, identifies first responders and primary jurisdiction, as well as how offenses and arrests will be filed.  At the same time as the MOUs are under negotiation, the district may prepare the required facility for the department.  The department must have a locking facility that only the chief and the officers may access.  That will require some adjustment to custodial routines, because the janitors may not enter the office when officers are not present.  The door must have a deadbolt lock, and must not have a suspended ceiling.  Finally, the office must have a secure evidence locker, such as a gun safe or similar.

Simultaneously, the district requests from TASB the CKE (LOCAL) policy for use by districts, and adopts it at a board meeting.  The policy specifies that the police chief (who hasn’t been hired yet) must report only to the superintendent, and the chief will annually review and update the police policy manual.  The police manual must contain nine specific policies, from use of force to racial profiling.  TCOLE will review the policies before issuing an agency number to the department.

Additionally, the district must amend its budget to show a line item that will cover salary, uniforms, weapons (if the officers don’t have their own), vehicles, computers, office supplies, etc.  Also on the budget side of a new department is the requirement to have liability insurance that specifically names the department as an insured, not just the district.  Finally, you need to prepare an organization chart of the proposed department.

Once all the steps are met, the district is ready to complete its application with TCOLE and send with a check for $1000.  The Commission will send a new agency investigator to inspect the facility.  Once approved, the district is ready to hire its first police officer (usually the chief).  HIRING ANY POLICE OFFICERS BEFORE TCOLE APPROVAL IS A FELONY. 

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