Birdville looks at ways to improve school security

Posted Saturday, Apr. 27, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Birdville school district officials are not always being notified when potential threats to student safety occur near schools after a police-fire dispatch system was launched last year, an official said.

District officials want the option of keeping children inside a school or delaying dismissal if a domestic dispute, a high-speed chase or some other incident occurs near the campus, said Rick Kempe, Birdville director of student services.

In years past, dispatchers for Haltom City, North Richland Hills, Richland Hills and Watauga knew their communities well enough to know when a crime occurred near a campus. Kempe surmises that under the four-city regional system, dispatchers do not know the larger region as well, Kempe said.

"They don't necessarily know where the schools are," he said. "So we're not getting notified until after the event."

North Richland Hills police investigator Keith Bauman wrote in an email that sometimes schools are not notified because the officers did not feel it was necessary. In those instances, the school was not in any danger or the situation was taken care of quickly, Bauman said.

The four cities combined jail and dispatch communications services to save money and be more efficient. North Richland Hills oversees the jail and dispatchers. The move saves North Richland Hills about $235,000 annually and allows the cities to coordinate better if a criminal travels from one community to another, officials say.

Birdville may hire a police sergeant so that the dispatchers have a single person to notify whenever an event occurs in the district's four main cities -- Haltom City, North Richland Hills, Richland Hills and Watauga. The sergeant would immediately notify Kempe, and they would decide what action to take, Kempe said.

The sergeant is among several options the district is considering as it examines school security.

School districts across the country are looking at campus security after 26 children and educators were gunned down Dec. 14 by 20-year-old Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Currently, the school district has a resource officer in each of the three high schools and at the Shannon Learning Center. Unarmed security guards are stationed at middle schools.

The resource officers are sworn police officers who get training in how to work in schools. They investigate crimes at the schools, provide a sense of security, monitor students out of juvenile facilities and help investigate youths accused of crimes outside of school, Kempe said.

The district spends $296,000 a year for the resource officers and security guards. The cities cover part of the resource officers' cost. To increase security, proposals range from adding armed guards at middle schools to adding resource officers at all 12 secondary school campus. The latter option would mean an additional cost of $268,000 a year, district spokesman Mark Thomas said. A sergeant would cost the district an additional $55,000 to $120,000, depending on costs and how much of the expense the cities agree to cover, district documents show. The figure includes an estimated annual salary of $70,000 to $90,000.

The Birdville Board of Trustees is expected to make a decision by its June 27 board meeting, Thomas said.

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