PSJA ISD police department poised to apply for state certification

Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District is continuing the process of creating an in-house police department and is near its final stages as it waits for a state agency to certify the department.

The district in June hired Police Chief Rolando Garcia, who is tasked with hiring, making policies and creating the department. The school board approved Garcia’s current position in May following a process that started in December 2018 to create the in-house department.

The school district has entered a memorandum of understanding with its three cities and will send the application to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement early this week, Garcia said.

The agency, which has requirements for the application, such as where the department will be housed, may officially certify the department after reviewing the district’s application. Garcia said he hopes to go “online” by February 1, depending on the state agency’s response.

“Once we get that call, we’ll bring those guys on board and get them in our campuses as early as possible,” Garcia said.

Garcia is currently the only staff member for the department, but wants to advertise for school resource officers. He wants to start the process early to check backgrounds and to ensure the transition runs smoothly.

“A background check for somebody who’s going to be responsible for the safety and security of our staff and our students is (a) priority for me. I want to make sure that a thorough background check is performed on all applicants and we select the best possible candidates. So I would want to start the background process immediately,” Garcia said.

PSJA ISD is one of the largest school districts in the region, with over 32,000 students enrolled in over 40 campuses. School officials decided it was time to create an in-house department following research and discussion.

Garcia served 25 years in the San Juan Police Department prior to becoming the school district’s first police chief, according to a news release. For him, the transition isn’t that much different, as he served as a school resource officer and noted the support he has received from the district, both from administration and elected officials. Coaching students during his off-duty hours is also an aspect he has enjoyed and is part of what drew him to the position, he said.

“Our officers are going to be a part of the education process, it’s just not going to be (law) enforcement…we’re going to be here just the same as a teacher and a counselor. We’re going to have roles as mentors, as counselors, as teachers,” he said.

PSJA ISD will continue its relationship with the three cities, with local departments offering spare equipment for the new department, he said. Having officers teach students in classrooms and presenting a potential career path to students in law enforcement are part of the district’s goals.

“My vision would be to eventually get armed officers at each campus, we want to be able to make sure everybody feels safe, but at the same time, the long term vision is…that we want to be a part of the education process,” Garcia said.