Resource officer issue snagged in Groves. Police, council and school district talk possible solutions

Published 12:28 am Thursday, August 4, 2022

GROVES — A bid to add a School Resource Officer to campuses in Groves has hit a snag but does not leave students unprotected.

Earlier this summer Groves Councilmembers were set to vote on the addition of an SRO, with the city paying approximately 20 percent of the specific Groves police officer’s salary and the Port Neches-Groves Independent School District paying approximately 80 percent.

When the topic came up during a July 18 meeting, Mayor Chris Borne informed councilmembers he had been asked by PNGISD Superintendent Dr. Mike Gonzales and board president Scott Bartlett to table the item.

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Port Neches Police Chief Paul Lemoine and Groves Deputy Chief Kirk Rice were at the meeting and prepared to answer any questions.

But the issue died for lack of a vote, meaning no discussion could be done.

Gonzales said he asked for the item to be removed from the agenda after hearing some Groves councilmembers had concerns with teaming up with the district to hire an SRO.

The last thing the district wanted, he said, was to be put in the middle of a divisive discussion — “yet, here we are.”

“The district wants to be clear in stating that we did not initiate the SRO discussion. Nevertheless, the district has taken steps and will continue to take further steps to improve the school district’s safety and security team,” Gonzales said. “PNG will continue to work closely with the Port Neches and Groves police departments and fire departments to provide the best safety and security support for the students and staff of PNGISD.”

Currently there is a 3-way partnership with PNGISD and the cities of Port Neches and Groves. The district’s safety team includes School Resource Officer Clint Nichols, who is a team leader, School Marshal Darren Terrell and School Marshal Mike Hebert. In addition, there are off-duty police officers from both cities that patrol campuses in their respective cities.

POLICE VIEW

The failure for discussion on Groves’ part is confusing to Groves City Marshal Norman Reynolds Jr.

Reynolds was out sick July 18 and was unable to attend the meeting, but Rice was there to answer questions.

He said he would have hoped to have discussion on the issue of an SRO as the first day of school approaches.

“I have confidence that hopefully we’ll be able to discuss it,” Reynolds said. “The school district made an extremely fair offer.”

Salary for a new officer, adding in benefits, comes to approximately $96,000. Of that money, the city would pay approximately $20,000, with the school district picking up the rest for an SRO, Reynolds said.

“Not only that, the school district gave us a school marshal for our elementary and intermediate schools. That’s a contract position, paid exclusively by the school district, so we’re getting two officers for a fraction of the price of one,” he said.

Reynolds said there are Groves officers who take off-duty jobs and walk through schools randomly every day at every school.

There is also a Groves officer who works at the middle school, but it is not the same person every day. That person’s salary is paid for by the district.

“We want the same person day in and day out to establish a relationship with the students and faculty,” Reynolds said. “Not just for security but, we have to wear a lot of hats. Mentor to kids, be somewhat of an educator, conduct training.”

Reynolds said he has been in favor of adding an SRO since Columbine.

“I’ve had the stance that we need to have a police officer in every school in the nation,” he said, while also noting the deadly school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas.

PNG High School athletics were once in the same district as Santa Fe and competed against each other.

“I don’t really understand why there’s not a sense of urgency with school starting in a few short weeks,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds noted the school shooting this year in Uvalde that left 19 students and two teachers dead.

CITY COUNCIL THOUGHTS

Groves Mayor Chris Borne said although the council did not opt to discuss an SRO, that doesn’t mean it won’t show up on another agenda in the future but that will be a conversation to be had with the school district to make sure they still support the issue.

Borne said the timing of the beginning of the new school year is not a problem and there is much to be discussed and so far they hadn’t had the opportunity.

“We are being offered the same contract they have with Port Neches, so it’s a standard deal, it’s already in place with Port Neches. That is the document they offered us,” Borne said in reference to the city working on its fiscal year agenda.

There is a process to get the action item back on the agenda; either two council members, the mayor or city manager must request it.

Ward 2 Councilman Paul Oliver and Mayor Pro Tem Rhonda Dugas said they did not know why the school district asked for the item to be tabled but added they need more in-depth information on the SRO before voting to use tax payers’ money to pay the officer’s salary.

They also feel the task is already being taken care of by the district.

“Our police department has dealings with the schools daily, whether this program takes place or not, this has been going on,” Oliver said. “Even though the council hasn’t chosen to vote on this, the program through the school district will still go through.”

Dugas agreed and said the Groves Police Department has a strong presence at the schools in the city.

“We just want to know a lot more in-depth information before we vote on it,” she said. “And I don’t want taxpayers’ money to go to something that’s already taken care of.”

Dugas said they just want to be sure they are doing is prudent and not double dipping into the taxpayers’ money because the school district has it covered.

“They’ve already got (school) marshals, they’ve already got SRO officers, they’ve already got all of the safety and security of the children covered,” she said. “I just want to make sure what we’re doing is prudent with taxpayers money.”