Austin Anderson and DPD SRO Dave Clark at LHHS 2020 graduation.

Just four months after the tragic school shooting in Uvalde, Dallas City Council Member Adam Bazaldua ambushed Council Member Adam McGough during Wednesday’s meeting with a request to cut funding for school resource officers (SROs) in Lake Highlands. You read that right. South Dallas and Fair Park rep Bazaldua proposed eliminating city funding for Lake Highlands SROs.

It turns out Plano ISD had requested Dallas police officers to serve as SROs on a few of their campuses sitting in the city of Dallas, just as Richardson ISD uses DPD SROs for their schools in Dallas (primarily LH schools). PISD will reimburse Dallas $150,000 for 100% of the cost, but Bazaldua raised a stink because RISD, which negotiated their contract 5 years ago, pays about 80%.

Keep in mind that these DPD SROs are protecting Dallas citizens living at Dallas addresses and playing in school playgrounds on Dallas dirt. Their parents drive on Dallas streets and shop at Dallas grocery stores. If a school shooter enters the building, the Dallas Fire-Rescue team will transport them to a Dallas hospital.

Perish the thought.

Lake Highlands residents are long-accustomed to living in our hybrid land of Richardson schools and Dallas amenities. Our children aren’t protected by officers from the Dallas ISD police force, as DISD kids are, nor are they guarded by Richardson cops. Our families rely on DPD. Every day, when we watch the TV news or read about another school shooting, we recognize just how critical that reliance is.

Assistant City Manager Jon Fortune schooled Bazaldua on the city’s arrangement with RISD, first negotiated in 2017.

“At that time, we only had four officers there, so we split the cost 50/50,” Fortune explained. “Since that time, the program has expanded to ten officers, and as that program has expanded, the current agreement that was approved by council required them to pay all additional costs at 100% above what the original agreement was.”

Fortune said the city’s contract with RISD expires in 2024 and would likely be renegotiated and require RISD to pay 100%.

Before long, Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia jumped up from the gallery to speak.

“The number one primary reason [for us to be on campus] is to increase safety in the schools,” Garcia said. “As we grow as an organization, and we’re able to provide more resources, we would love to do more programming in the schools and do the true SRO program with the officers there, but right now our main concern, our number one concern, is to provide more safety than what those school districts feel they have.”

Council Member Cara Mendelsohn, who represents Far North Dallas and has a few RISD schools in her district, reminded Bazaldua that the council’s own public safety committee identified a need for DPD SROs to develop positive interactions with students, in addition to their policing and safety duties. She also stressed that DPD responds to Dallas ISD campuses often, despite coverage by Dallas ISD’s own police department. Shootings, gang activity and serious drug offenses are among the issues they handle.

“Our schools are the most critical infrastructure that we have, [along with] the students that go to those schools,” said Garcia. “As police chief I can’t throw my hands in the air and say I can’t help you keep your students safe. Part of my job is to try to figure out a way to provide them what they need within the constraints of what I have to work with.”

McGough was clearly frustrated. Plano ISD’s SRO issue had been placed on the Consent Agenda, meaning it was expected to pass with no controversy and little discussion. (You may watch the exchange via this link. Just click on Item 32.)

“I’m having a hard time thinking of an issue that is more important to me than protecting our kids in our schools,” said McGough. “With the current climate, any suggestion that we need to make a change or reduce that in any way or oppose what is currently on the books, every discussion should be about expanding and looking at additional opportunities, whether legislatively or by funding or any other mechanism to have additional help in our schools.”

McGough said the partnership between the City of Dallas, DPD and RISD has led to reduced neighborhood crime, fewer student suspensions and a lessening of various other discipline issues in schools.

SROs “are engaging with these kids. They are impacting lives. They are making a difference,” he said.

The proposal to provide SROs to Plano ISD and accept their reimbursement eventually passed. You may read about three of LHHS’ amazing SROs here and here and here.