By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
The Dallas school board last month approved the plan to create a school police department in a 7-2 vote. The two dissenting voters, Hollis Brashear and Lew Blackburn, did not respond to requests for interviews.
Vasquez did not stress what a spokesman for a national association of school police forces says is the biggest advantage to a school police department--information. E.O. "Red" McAllister, executive director of the National Association of School Safety and Law Enforcement Officers, which represents about 250 school departments among 16,000 U.S. school districts, says that once a school police department becomes part of the police "fraternity" they can get much better cooperation from regular city police for all sorts of things related to crimes and investigations on and off campus.
"You are able to get a lot more information from the local police departments if you are a member of that fraternity of being a police officer," he says. "There's not a hesitation on the part of local agencies to share information with the school district within the scope of the law...that's probably one of the greatest pluses for it."
Tom Nichols, chief of the Lubbock Independent School District police department and immediate past president of the Texas Association of School District Police, says he doesn't see a negative side to school police.
"A couple people said, 'Gosh, we're going to have cops walking down halls killing kids.' I said, 'Well, I certainly wouldn't imagine so, but if there is a kid killing kids, would you want your officer to not have a gun so he could lead the charge running down the hallway screaming, "Everybody out! Everybody out!"?' I've never heard of cops being hired to go out and kill kids."
Although the number of school police departments in other states is not increasing as rapidly as in Texas (there were just 14 school police departments in Texas in 1990), the number of crimes reported at the nation's schools is actually declining, according to a recent report by the National Center for Education Statistics. It says that "students were more than twice as likely to be victims of serious violent crime away from school than at school."
Advocates also say that school police seem to reduce the number of incidents at schools after an initial increase. Typically, after about three years, the number of incidents declines, probably because policing becomes a recognized deterrent among students, association representatives say.
"Our first year we confiscated 15 rifles and handguns. We have not confiscated one this year, and we did not confiscate one last year. That's with very aggressive metal detectors, drug dogs, bomb dogs," Nichols says. "Kids will let us know somebody's talking about a gun...and we'll get on that and head it off."
They claim Vasquez and his operating methods are frequently at the expense of African-Americans. Vasquez, they say, has kept problems from a school board that has no clue how deep the discontent runs or how badly the department needs to be cleaned up before instituting major changes that increase the department's scope and authority.
"I don't want to be a police officer [in a department] built on a foundation of first of all racism, nepotism and favoritism," says Graham, who acts as spokeswoman for the group of employees.
Grievances filed against Vasquez include irrational administrative orders, arbitrary job changes, disciplinary actions that favor whites and Hispanics and flat-out denial of promotions in job responsibilities for blacks.
One employee, Greg Burnough, a project liaison officer, complains that he, like Graham, lost his workstation after he filed a grievance against Vasquez and asked for a pay increase. Burnough, whose job it is to evaluate security at the district's 218 schools, says Vasquez continuously changed reporting formats so that his work could never be accomplished. As a result, his school security reports have not been returned to school principals in more than a year.
Another, Mike McKinney, an 11-year district security employee, says he alone has filed more than 40 grievances. McKinney says he gets written up for all sorts of minutiae because Vasquez is trying to create a paper trail that will eventually allow him to be fired. The grievances are another new aspect of the department since Vasquez arrived, the group agrees.
"Before Manny got there, I filed one [grievance], one back in 1995," McKinney says.
McKinney was accused of taking a district vehicle home, of wearing a gun when he wasn't supposed to and of doing other things that witnesses subsequently swore were untrue. McKinney claims Vasquez has hired eight "officers off of the street" at a higher salary than his. He, like Graham, has filed complaints with the federal government charging that he has been discriminated against because of his race.