With the first day of school around the corner, Mission CISD and local law enforcement agencies have partnered up to enhance safety and security for students and staff.
Since the May shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde — the deadliest school shooting in Texas history — districts have been working even more to heighten safety measures. For the 2022-2023 school year, Mission CISD contracted the Mission Police Department, Alton PD, Palmhurst PD and the Precinct 3 Constable’s office to have 10 school resource officers and three constables stationed throughout district facilities.
Leaders of each law enforcement agency spoke at the Aug. 3 board of trustees workshop to reassure the community they were ready to handle any serious incident that may arise.
“…we are prepared to take on any threat to public safety,” Mission Police Chief Cesar Torres said. “Your kids are our kids, so we want to make sure that you all know and understand that we are prepared. We’ve been training, we’ve been training, we’ve been training. We’ve been teaching active shooter classes not only to our citizens, but also to our school staff.”
Mission PD will supply seven school resource officers, and the chief said Mission PD has an 18-member SWAT team prepared to act. Alton PD will supply two SROs and Palmhurst will provide one.
Without going into detail for safety reasons, Torres said the amount of resources the local agencies have is “unprecedented.” Although he did not reveal any security strategies, the chief did say all squad cars will be parked in the school parking lots so they can be visible on campuses.
Torres explained that the Mission PD school resource officers undergo training to speak to students and earn their trust. He also said the on-site officers plan to have lunch with the kids during the school year to build rapport.
Additionally, the SROs will monitor and report safety concerns so Mission CISD can make any updates to security measures as needed.
All the chiefs reassured the trustees and administration that each department is working together to better their communication. Pct. 3 Constable Larry Gallardo said he and the other chiefs will continue to meet periodically throughout the year.
“No matter what it is, we’re going to respond; we’re going to be on the same page. And that’s probably one of the things that didn’t happen…” Gallardo said as his thought trailed off. “We’re not going to talk about what happened in Uvalde, but I think if there was better communication…not only from us, [also] communication from you all. Because if there is a threat out there, in a school, then we need to know about it as soon as possible so we can take care of it.”
A report on the Robb Elementary School shooting, which the Investigative Committee of the Texas House of Representatives released July 17, revealed that the 376 law enforcement officers on the scene had an “overall lackadaisical” or careless lazy approach when responding to the shooting. The report described the scene as “chaotic, without any person obviously in charge or directing the law enforcement response.” The events lasted more than an hour, and the shooter killed 19 children and two adults.
But Alton Chief of Police Jonathan Flores said the four agencies have been training to keep the situation under control should the district face a similar threat.
“During any critical or high intensity situation, what you’re gonna see is a lot of chaos. That’s the one thing that we have been preparing for,” Flores said. “While we cannot speak to things that have happened in other places, we do know that it is very unfortunate that we even have to speak about these things as our kids prepare to receive a quality education for the school year.”
Superintendent Dr. Carol Perez said when the district has needed to contact police agencies because of past threats, they have responded within minutes and with no hesitation. Mission CISD had a few threats and scares last school year, but all students and staff remained unharmed.
Last year, Mission CISD spent about $2.4 million on security staffing, which includes internal staff and contracted services. For comparison, Harlingen CISD spent about $1.5 million and Weslaco and Donna each spent roughly $2.5 million. Neighboring school districts with in-house police departments spent between $4.1 million and $5.9 million.
Perez did not want to explain the specifics of Mission CISD’s security strategy for the upcoming school year at the workshop, but administration and the trustees are exploring all options. Other alternatives include school marshals, level III (armed) security officers and creating an in-school police department.
Texas lawmakers created a school marshal program in 2013 following the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre in Connecticut, where a shooter killed 20 first graders and six adults. The marshal program allows educators to complete a series of training, tests, exams and state licensing for discreetly carrying a firearm on campus.
The difference between a school marshal and a level III guard is a marshal’s identity remains anonymous, they must conceal their weapon and they shoot only frangible ammunition. Marshals must recertify every two years, and their jurisdiction is restricted to school grounds, school vehicles and district sporting venues. The stipend for a school marshal is about $3,000 per school year versus a $40,000 salary for a level III security officer.
Mission CISD could also do a hybrid model of a marshal program and level III security officers. However, the superintendent said the district will not disclose the final decision for security purposes.
School Board President Jerry Zamora has been pushing Mission CISD to implement an in-house police department, but the district lacks the funds to build a team.
“What I can say, not only as a board member but as chief of the constable service, all our guys train really hard. They’re out there sweating and doing their darndest to learn what to do in a situation,” Zamora said. “My guys are all ready to go in, I’m telling you that right now. All of them.”