Cameron County to help provide security at Harlingen schools

A view of Harlingen High School Wednesday, May 25, 2022. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)

Interlocal agreements between the Harlingen School District, the Cameron County Sheriff’s Department and Cameron County Constables Pct. 5 and Pct. 3 will allow off duty officers with these agencies to provide security at Harlingen schools.

Cameron County Commissioners Court approved the agreement at Tuesday’s Commissioners Court meeting and Pct. 4 Commissioner Gus Ruiz asked that the interlocal agreement be signed and delivered to the district quickly since the Harlingen school district starts classes Monday.

According to the Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District website, the district has 30 campuses.

Providing security at schools across the Rio Grande Valley was brought to the forefront following the May 24 massacre at a Uvalde elementary school that left 19 students and two teachers dead.

A former student at the Uvalde Independent School District used an automatic rifle to gun down the students and teachers, making it the deadliest school shooting in Texas, and the second deadliest school shooting in the United States.

School districts in the Valley have urgently sought to hire additional police officers for their campuses for the upcoming school year. The Los Fresnos Consolidated Independent School District hired nine in a matter of a couple of months that would provide police officers for all its campuses, and La Joya Independent School District was seeking to hire 22 officers in order to have a police officer at every elementary campus.

Under the county and HCISD agreement, off duty officers from the sheriff’s department and constables’ offices will provide security at the schools, facilities and extracurricular school-sponsored events on an as needed basis.

The mission of the program is the reduction and prevention of school-related violence and crimes that threatens the safety of students, faculty, administrative personnel, and the security of the public program, according to the agreement.

The term on the agreement is for two years. The agreement may be renewed by mutual consent for additional one-year terms not to exceed more than three years.

The number of officers needed will be decided by HCISD and the sheriff’s department and constable offices will provide the names of the officers and the days they are able to provide security.

The officers should be full-time employees with the county and certified as peace officers for the state of Texas.

Some of the issues under the agreement include the school district will allow the officers to carry a weapon and act as a commissioned peace officer at all times, so long as the officer is acting under their official capacity. All officers shall complete an active shooter response training provided by TCOLE on an annual basis. The county will pay for all costs related to the training.

The Harlingen School District will be required to pay the off-duty officers for their services via a rotational pool. The part-time assignments requested by the district are to be paid at the “prevailing overtime rate currently $45 an hour.”

The district may also request the off-duty officer be equipped with a marked police unit at the cost of $10 an hour as set by the county and based on availability.

School principals or school district professional employees will be required to report serious crimes to the deputies or constables.

The county will be “solely” responsible and liable for coordinating and establishing chain of command and response protocol with regard to active shooter situations and emergency responses.

During the active shooter incident at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, there was confusion among the responding law enforcement agencies as to which department was in charge.

A Texas House Committee report on the Uvalde school shooting said there was no clear leadership, unreliable communications in the building, and that law enforcement prioritized their own safety over that of the students and teachers.

The agreement also states that HCISD shall allow law enforcement to seek information from student education records found in the school’s databases. The information obtained shall be strictly monitored by school staff.

HCISD may provide information for a student’s education record to appropriate authorities in connection with an emergency “in order to protect the health or safety of a student or other individual.”

The agreement between the county and HCISD also states that either party can terminate the agreement at any time without cause upon written notice to the other party.