“We want to send a message out to our constituents and parents and grandmothers and granddads that we are ready for the new school year,” said Herman during a news conference Monday morning.
After meeting last week with local school district police chiefs, Herman says he will provide equipment and hundreds of additional deputies to schools within the boundaries of Precinct 4 in north Harris County.
“My office has already begun authorizing personnel, equipment-different types of equipment- to in and around these ISDs, depending on the needs of each police chief and their staff,” Herman explained.
Collectively the six public Independent School Districts (ISD) within Precinct 4 constitute the largest student population in Harris County. Herman says Humble and Klein, both already open, have already submitted requests for personnel and equipment, and he expects the others to do the same before their classes begin later this month.
Other independent school districts in Precinct 4 include Aldine, Cy-Fair, Spring, and Tomball.
“We are unified as one to work together as a team to accomplish the safety of the community and more importantly our kids,” said Tomball Police Department Captain Brandon Patin.
The constable’s office will place both uniformed and undercover officers on campus and assign patrol units to perform security checks on schools each day. In addition, school districts may be provided with ballistic shields and AR-15 rifles, of which Herman says his department has plenty.
Last week, Houston ISD Superintendent Millard House announced that his police department is not prepared for an active-shooter scenario, urging the school board to purchase a new rifle and ballistic plate shield for each of the 200 ISD police officers.
Herman declined to provide the total number of AR-15 rifles possessed by his department but quipped that they had “more than they could shoot” at one time. He also said that more than 200 of his officers completed additional active shooter trainings this summer.
Schools and community leaders across the state have been re-examining security protocols following the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas that killed 19 children and two adults.
Harris County Commissioner Tom Ramsey (R- Pct. 3) pushed for creating a county Safe School Commission earlier this year, and last week spoke at a press conference with Fire Marshal Laurie Christensen on some of the safety protocols underway. Later this month, the commission will present formal recommendations on how the county might assist with bolstering security on campus.
While traditionally ISD police have focused on high schools, Herman told The Texan that the Uvalde tragedy showed the need to step up protection for elementary schools and daycare centers, which could be “soft targets.”
Although Herman said the total cost for providing the additional security presence would be “in the millions,” he would not request additional funding from Harris County government for this specific program and referenced ongoing controversy over law enforcement funding.
“I have asked for funds from the county to support personnel, district spots,” said Herman, who explained that any additional funds in his budget have come from local homeowners associations and municipal districts contracting with his office to increase patrols. “I have received zero district support personnel in the last three years. We have asked for it, we did not get it.”
Last year, a controversial consulting group, PFM Consulting, recommended eliminating the county’s eight elected constables or at least sharply reducing the budget for their law enforcement efforts. In 2020, Commissioner Adrian Garcia (D-Pct. 3) attempted to eliminate constable’s powers to contract with local entities, but was thwarted by public outcry.
In crafting this year’s budget, County Administrator David Berry agreed to just 18 percent of law enforcement funding requests, and commissioners voted along partisan lines last year to strip the eight constables’ departments and the district attorney’s office of so-called “rollover funds.”
Since then, commissioners court added funds to the sheriff’s department for the jail system and restored rollover funds to the district attorney’s office. But the court has declined to do so for the constables’ offices, and did not include any constable requests in the public safety portion of a planned $1.2 billion bond referendum proposal slated for the November 2022 ballot.
Regarding reallocation of resources in his department, Herman said the program would take away from some of the other things his staff had to do, but added, “when it comes to our kids, you’ve got to make hard decisions.”
“The ISD representatives and their chiefs, we’ve made hard decisions, we’ve prioritized, we know this is important.”
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Holly Hansen is a reporter for The Texan living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.