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Campus Police: Keeping School Safety a Priority When Funds Are Limited

Author: Antonio L. Ford, Chief, Cleveland (TX) Independent School District Police

Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

Date: 2011-10-31
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Creating and re-structuring independent school district police during turbulent school financial times

Photo: Chief Antonio Ford and student Yvette Polamores.

The reduction in school funding has had a drastic impact on school business and their operations. School boards and superintendents all over Texas have had to reprioritize and rethink what is most important.  The ominous “R.I.F” (Reduction in Force) still continues to loom. Regrettably, we observed that thousands of individuals in both the professional and support personnel ranks gave way to R.I.Fs and were released. Systematically, all aspects of school business and operations are being scrutinized and auxiliary departments are now being analyzed from a cost- benefit perspective. With the elimination of many federal initiatives, like Title IV, which assisted school districts in funding safe school initiatives, and the reduction of state funding for supplemental academic programs, districts will have to weigh the costs of many academic and auxiliary programs, and school safety will continue to be in the forefront of areas to be cut.  No one is willing to intentionally place schools in a position of vulnerability; however, polar opposites exist in the areas of how districts are meeting the challenge of securing schools.  While some districts reduced manpower and service, others determined the continuation of their own ISD Police Department too costly and are opting to contract the services through local agencies, and still others met the challenge and formed their own police departments.

In creating and restructuring Independent School District Police Department, leaders of the district in conjunction with local patrons and agencies, should adopt a philosophy reflective of the idea that the police department will be a partner of the school district and the community it serves (community oriented policing).  Community policing is a philosophy and an organizational strategy that promotes a partnership between people and their police. It is based on the premise that both the police and the community must work together to identify, prioritize, and solve contemporary community problems such as crime, drugs, fear of crime, social and physical disorder, and overall decay with the goal of improving the overall school community. Boots on the ground have to embrace community oriented policing and customer service. The creation of a culture of community policing is all contingent on if the school community embraces the shared responsibility with police personnel. The community policing philosophy stresses that the responsibility for the maintenance of order in a schools community must be shared by both the police and members of the school. Shared responsibility insisted frequent and sustained communication, which is crucial in building mutual trust and cooperation between members of the schools community and police personnel. In community policing, officers are encouraged to listen to customers concerns and assist them with their problem-solving techniques.

This established partnership enables the community to be more participative, assisting in the organization’s fundamental philosophy and values.  The development of a fundamental philosophy and value statement will ultimately lead to the development of a focused mission statement that defines the role in securing the security of persons and property within the school community. The mission statement enables the development of specific goals and objectives that are conducive in the deliverance of police services that should be extended to all citizens in an equitable, unbiased, respectful and judicious manner. Secondly, the departmental philosophy should be undergirded by intelligence and information-led policing that promotes open lines of communication between school administrators, law enforcement, local agencies, businesses organizations and citizens as stakeholders in school law enforcement.  In an age of increased local and domestic threats from terrorism and natural disaster, this communication must also extend to the state and federal level. This development of a common philosophy is a paradigm shift creating an aligned team, focused on department objectives, while allowing individuals to achieve their professional goals with a mission of establishing a safer school community.

Experientially, specialty police departments, like ISD Police, are usually more responsive to the organization and customer base that they were designed and assigned to service. Therefore, it is imperative that ISD Police Departments help build community, which is done through establishing trust between the ISD and the community they are serving. Never before has organizational integrity within a police department been more called for.   However, organizational integrity cannot be achieved without individuals of personal integrity.  Personal integrity is the very soul of the department and its culture. Personal integrity equates to doing the right thing and remembering “There is no right way to do the wrong thing.” When leaders exhibit the highest level of personal integrity in their role in the department, such conduct pervades the culture as followers are motivated to adopt such conduct in their own actions.  In today’s highly visible and accountable policing; a lack of personal integrity on behalf of the Chief of Police or personnel can jeopardize the integrity of the entire department and cause undo scrutiny for the department.

Difficult decisions will continue to be made because pundits have concluded school funding will not improve.  Resources will continue to be scarce as the move to hold the bottom line is maintained.  A police chief’s primary responsibility relative to effective leadership regarding the personnel is to set the moral tone for the entire organization. He or she has to model the values, behaviors and philosophy they wish to see expressed in the departmental culture.  One cannot purchase the loyalty, enthusiasm or motivation of followers; it must be earned through example.  When leaders talk the talk without walking the walk, it corrodes morale. Setting the moral tone supports the fundamental values of the organization.  Morale is a state of mind or attitude, which means it, can be influenced by the conduct of leaders.  Leaders have to display an attitude of positivity even during adversity. Considering alternative options and thinking outside-the-box to solve resource issues is often necessary in resolving morale issue in modern policing.

Lastly, frontline officers must realize who their customers are. The citizen is the customer in effective law enforcement; both law-abiding and crime committing citizen.  Everyone is a potential customer and everyone has potential customers.  Customer service is about meeting and exceeding the customers’ expectations.  It is the responsibility of the every member who has chosen to represent the Police Department by wearing the badge.  The role of customer service in an effective law enforcement environment is to monitor and respond to the customers’ perceptions and expectations of professional service.

Frontline law enforcement officers deliver customer service to end users of law enforcement, citizens, but it is up to department personnel and the Chief of Police to ensure this level of customer service is being delivered professionally to citizens who are the customers.  Numerous instances of law enforcement officers breaking laws to arrest or while detaining suspected criminals show how detrimental poor levels of customer service delivery can be to the reputation of the police department and it emaciates community trust in law enforcement. It is not up to law enforcement to serve as judge or juror, but as public servants protecting law-abiding citizens from those who break laws in a lawful manner in a professional, courteous and respectful manner. If Independent School District Police are going to remain relevant, have continued growth and be viewed as an integral part of a school community the police have to engulf themselves into the essence and fabric of the school and make sure that they are considered an asset and not a necessary evil.  Collectively they must put forth an extra effort to be viewed as part of the solution, aid in mitigating issues and help to elevate the District into a possession of academic and professional excellence.

Antonio L. Ford is the Chief of Police for the Cleveland Independent School District located in Cleveland, Texas.

For more information on campus public safety, see:Campus Police - Public Safety in a Microcosm



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