After the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain and other individuals killed by police officers in 2020 — along with the protests that followed — the national conversation surrounding police brutality and the role of law enforcement has come to a head.
In this photo from before the pandemic, Klein ISD Police Officer Christi Haggard sits with a group of students for the Leadership Academy program.
Virginia Rangel, assistant professor for the department of educational leadership and policy studies at University of Houston, said the conversation is causing smaller communities to analyze and question the presence of their own local law enforcement, including police within school districts.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, in 2019, 14 million students nationwide were attending schools with police but no counselors, nurses, psychologists or social workers; while an additional 10 million students were in schools with no social workers.
“Nationwide there are more school resource officers, or police officers, in schools than there are counselors,” Rangel said.
Social justice groups, including ONE Houston, Texas Appleseed and Children’s Defense Fund Texas advocate for less school policing and more counselors and mental health specialists in schools. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, Texas schools have an average of 434 students per one counselor compared to the U.S. Department of Education’s recommended 250 students per one counselor and one social worker.
Rangel said that nationwide, ISD police originally had the same role in schools as they do in society — preventing crime and keeping students in check; and individuals’ perception of armed uniformed police in public spaces carries over to school campuses.
However, ISD police chiefs in the northwest Houston area said they are implementing proactive practices, such as trust-building with students, in order to avoid the escalation of situations. Klein ISD Police Chief David Kimberly said his force is trained, and trains other ISD police departments, to foster better relationships between officers and students.
“We’re just a highly specialized type of law enforcement and it takes a very special officer to work here,” Kimberly said. “We don’t just hire anyone. We’re very, very careful in who we’re hiring to make sure that their heart is pure.”
Origins of the ISD police
The Klein ISD Police Department was the first ISD police department in Texas, established and operating as of September 1982. Since its inception, and especially within the last decade, Kimberly said the ISD police department has evolved to take a relational, rapport-building relationship with students.
“It really takes it back to the safety side of it because we know that in previous serious acts of violence that have occurred on campuses, too often the conversation is, ‘I didn’t know anybody, I didn’t trust anybody,’ so we make sure that our guys are ready, open and available to talk with students,” Kimberly said. “The idea