PSJA ISD makes move toward creating police department; hires chief

The Pharr-San Juan-Alamo school board of trustees took another step toward creating an in-house police department by authorizing the superintendent to negotiate a Memorandum of Understanding with its tri-city partnership during a May 28 meeting.

Such action came after PSJA ISD approved Sgt. Rolando Garcia of the San Juan Police Department to serve as the school district’s police chief in a May 13 school board meeting.

The district does not currently have a police department, but the recent hire is expected to help build, transition and create its own police department within the district, according to a statement issued by district spokesperson Arianna Vazquez-Hernandez. School officials hope to implement the department by the start of the next academic year.

Trustees voted unanimously to create a school district police department in December 2018. The district currently partners with the three cities of Pharr, San Juan and Alamo to provide security services to local schools.

“The district will continue to collaborate with its tri-city police department partners in any and all matters concerning the safety of all students and staff,” the statement read. “The new chief will help develop and implement preventative security and safety programs, as well as, coordinate with other police departments, district directors and campus principals. These efforts are intended to enhance current safety measures in place such as security guards at every school and School Resource Officers at secondary campuses.”

It also stated that Garcia will be tasked with “establishing timelines, staffing plans, and developing policies and procedures.”

Discussions have taken place in recent years about implementing an in-house police department, PSJA school district superintendent Daniel King said.

“The majority of, I guess you could say, larger districts in the area have taken that step years ago,” he said.

The board had come to a “philosophical decision” to take similar steps but will “work jointly” with the cities of Pharr, San Juan and Alamo to do so, King said.

School resource officers of the “in-house” department will be involved “formally” and “informally” in education for students, he said, adding these officers are education-focused.

Garcia has experience as a school resource officer and previously served in a one of PSJA’s high schools, King said.

“(The decision to hire Garcia was) basically based on his past experience and based on his ideas for the program,” King said of Garcia’s qualifications and selection.

These officers also work as educators and as “informal counselors” in addition to their law enforcement duties, according to the National Association of School Resource Officers website.

The details are still being discussed about the official duties of the three cities and their responsibilities as the district prepares for the upcoming in-house department, he said.

“We have great relationships with all three city police departments, and clearly all of our campuses pretty much lie within their jurisdiction and that will not change,” King said.