Monday, April 11, 2011

Budget crisis forces schools to consider cutting campus cops

I'd earlier suggested that the growing budget crunch could force cutbacks of campus police based at public schools, and a story in the Houston Chronicle today ("Schools scramble after budget ax falls on security") confirms that school-based police are facing the budget axe as school districts prepare for massive state-level cuts. In Harris County, "Budget cuts have led two Harris County constables to cancel their security contracts with several area school districts, leaving the districts scrambling for a fix to cover the end of this school year and beyond," wrote reporter Mike Morris. As it turns out, constables' offices had been providing those services at a subsidized rate:
Cy-Fair is facing the loss of a 38-deputy contract with Precinct 4 Constable Ron Hickman. Galena Park will lose its existing 11-deputy contract with Precinct 2 Constable Gary Freeman.

In both cases, the districts reimburse the county for 80 percent of the $91,000 cost of a deputy's salary, benefits and equipment. The full cost of the deputies come out of the constables' budgets, and the reimbursements from the school districts go into the county coffers.

Hickman's contract with Cy-Fair, for example, represented a nearly $3.3 million expense on his $29 million budget this year; the district's cost would have been about $2.7 million.
At $91K per year, one campus cop costs nearly as much as two fired schoolteachers, and if the Cy-Fair district has to pay the full freight, the expense would increase from $3.3 million to $4.125 million. Instead of spending that money on police, it'd probably be cheaper and more effective to hire one more assistant principal at each campus and just call 911 if there's ever an immediate threat. In Austin if they did that, odds are there'd be a cop parked right outside the door writing tickets for cell-phone use in a school zone, which is apparently a bigger priority than investigating burglaries or just about anything else. (Of course, eliminating campus cops risks having no one available to mace any threatening baby squirrels who wander onto campus, but I'm not sure that service is worth $91,000 per year to taxpayers.)

My hope is that the budget crunch prompts a complete rethinking of campus security and school discipline. With exceptionally good timing, Chairman John Whitmire and Sen. Juan Hinojosa have suggested eliminating or radically scaling back the amount of ticketing at schools, which raises the question, if they're not going to be writing tickets, perhaps school police aren't needed at all?  The bill is pending in Whitmire's Senate Criminal Justice Committee after receiving a public hearing March 29 (see video of testimony here beginning at the 1:15:15 mark).

RELATED: Thanks to a commenter for pointing out that the McAllen Monitor ran a story about the bill to reduce school ticketing over the weekend.

See related Grits posts:


Audrey said...

It seems to me if teachers, administration and counselors were trained in how to work with kids/teenagers then there would be no need to turn school into a police state. I would guess the way campus cops justify their cost is by writing tickets....a quota game....but does it really make the schools safer? The messages we are giving our kids are just so are teaching self-discipline?

Anonymous said...

The McAllen Monitor ran an article this weekend stating that this bill, which is co sponsored by our state senator, Hinojosa, is getting mixed reviews. The vast majority of the readers who responded do not support the bill.

I agree with Grits that this is a good time to review and revamp school security and discipline measures. We must keep our kids safe but we must also not make criminals out of the kids who commit minor misdemeanor offenses.

This craziness recently came to a head with the conviction of a local JP for official oppression. This may be the reason that prompted Senator Hinojosa to act. She unlawfully jailed two kids for truancy. How in the world do people think that putting truant 17year old kids in jail with hardened criminals makes the kids better persons and makes society a better place?

Though not directly related to the topic, the Monitor also ran an article recently stating that the average superintendent's salary in Texas is 108k. The average superintendent's salary in the Valley is about 160k with several making over 200k. You would think this kind of money would buy us new and innovative ideas to deal with school discipline and security. No, it simply maintains the Fort Apache mentality.

What about the state placing a limit on salaries paid to school administrators? Really, no one in government should be making more the 150k. And please don't say that this is simply a local issue. If it's that simple, then the issue concerning school police and discipline would also be simply a local issue.

Shadowguv said...

My spouse and I walked past two uniformed HISD Police Officers in the hallway of our magnet elementary school this morning. They were both pleasant and said "good morning" as we passed. We wondered to each other as we left the building why one Officer was in tactical apparel: dark blue, para-military style uniform, HISD Police patches on the arm sleeve, with a low riding combat style, thigh holster holding what looked like a Sig. Really??

What impression does this send to our children? I immediately thought of the previous "Grits" post. If I was a budget writing official I would ZERO out the entire campus police budget line.

And yes, the Asst. Principal can just call 911. What a waste.

Old Cop said...

I've said it for years...get the cops out of schools and return the teacher's role in old fashioned discipline. Stop criminalizing kids for what used to be detention and expulsion "offenses", quit criminalizing teachers who impose discipline, and quit worrying about loss of the almighty federal dollar. If the little bastards don't want to be in school, send them to a mandatory stretch in the military. The deserts of Iraq and mountains of Afghanistan may engender a "burning desire" for futher education when (if) they get back.

Anonymous said...


It seems to me that if parents took on their respsonibility as parents and would support teachers and administrators by reinforcing at home what is enforced at school then there would be no need to turn school into a police state.

Are you one of those who is afraid that putting a paddle to little Johnny's ass is going to turn him into a hatchet murderer or ruin his self-esteem?

Well said Old Cop!

Anonymous said...

What's interesting is that Constable Hickman targeted the school deputy constables who are on an 80/20 split but ignored positions in some contracted neighborhoods on a 70/30 split (saving an extra 10% covered by the county), and positions fully funded by the county (a 100% savings). Reportedly when he did target some 70/30 types it was in the high call neighborhoods - dumping the calls to the sheriff's office - and retained the 70/30 deputies in the upper middle-class low call - low response neighborhoods.

His deputies are also still working toll roads with minimal traffic issues.

Figure his strategy is coordinated with some on the Commissioners Court (Radack, Eversole) who are interested in dumping the Democratic sheriff in two years and eventually stripping the patrol function from the Sheriff's Office after going after the limited neighborhood contracts currently held by the Sheriff's Office. But what do I know?

Anonymous said...

As a parent I am on the fence on this issue. While I don't totally agree in writing kids a bunch of tickets I also do not believe the good ole days of school discipline will return. Spanking and explusions were on the way out 20yrs ago when I was in highschool and I dont see them coming back. In addition I never recall anyone ever getting stabbed, shot or muchless anyone bringing a gun to highschool and I graduated from a 5A school.

The problems we face in schools these days are much different, than 20 yrs ago. The majority of parents are not involved and view school as a babysitter for thier children. Just go to an open house night and see how vacant the parking lot is if you dont believe me.

The kids do not respect the teachers or the principal. According to my daughter they do fear the campus cop, who does write lots of tickets hitting the kids in their wallets which at the time seems to be the only thing they do care about.

Taking the cops out of school given our current problem with the value of education in our society might make people feel good but I believe it will lead to only more behavior problems not less.

- Parent

Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to see how much time is saved on Police Depts. by having an Officer at the school.

Some areas that are more rural would be forced to wait a pretty good while for an Officer to respond to an incident at the school....

Anonymous said...

I have no problem with schools getting rid of school police departments. When I was in school during the 90s, there was no police department in my school and we did just fine. Schools simply approach student behavior discipline the wrong way. In my school district, there was a "gang problem" and so the school made a police force. But it did not solve the problem or make the community any safer. What students need are programs that keep them occupied, social services, mental health services, not police officers who have no training on how to interact with children.