On Patrol: He's Earned His Bragging Rights
Nearly two decades ago, Spring ISD’s Chief Alan Bragg created the school district’s police department with support from the superintendent, school board and community. Proper planning, budgeting, site assessments and officer recruitment laid the groundwork for the agency’s success today.
It’s not everyday that a school, university or hospital police chief or security director is tasked with starting an agency from scratch. Indeed, most new chiefs join departments that have procedures, policies and plans — good, bad or otherwise — created by their predecessors. If the department is healthy, the chief’s job might not be that difficult. If the agency has personnel issues or outdated policies, the new department head could be in for a world of hurt.
Imagine, then, the incredible opportunity and challenge that faced Spring (Texas) Independent School District (ISD) Police Department Chief Alan Bragg in 1991 when he was hired to create a brand new law enforcement agency for the school system. Bragg had the experience, skills and foresight to create an agency that has lasted for 17 years and continues going strong. Spring ISD PD has successfully navigated the district’s tremendous expansion, demographic changes and population growth that have occurred through the years.
In fact, Bragg’s agency has been so successful that the chief and his department were recognized by the School Safety Advocacy Council this summer for their hard work in keeping Spring ISD’s students safe. Here’s how it all began.
How did Spring ISD determine it needed its own police department?
Bragg: In 1990, the school board and superintendent knew our area was becoming less suburban, less rural. They knew that some of the inner-city problems you’d normally experience were trickling out this way. So they put a team of administrators together and visited with some other districts that already had police departments.
In 1991 when you became chief, how did you develop the department?
Bragg: We actually spent about the first six months writing a policy manual, writing job descriptions, going to each campus and doing assessments to see what we had, what we needed, how many officers we needed — just trying to put a plan together. That took us quite a while, doing all the legal work with the state and our attorneys to make sure that what we were putting together was done properly and legally.
By the end of July 1991 we had everything in place and advertised for our first applicants. We had about 35 or 40 applicants for eight positions, so we hired the best eight. Since then we’ve added two to three officers a year through growth.
What are some of the critical steps a police chief must take when creating a new school district police department?
Bragg: I think that number one, he or she needs the support of the superintendent and the school board. Ours was a unanimous decision by our board to start the department, so that makes it a whole lot easier for the person coming in.
You also need to get the community involved and probably, to some degree, sell the parents and those community members who might be opposed to it. There is always some opposition to starting your own police department because some people say, “Why should we use the school district’s tax dollars to start our own department when we already reside in a jurisdiction that has law enforcement to respond to this stuff anyway?”
There are always some taxpayers who might say we’re sort of paying for these services twice. But I think parents probably don’t see it the way they did when we started. Now the safety of their children is on the tips of their tongues.
What about planning and funding for the new agency?
Bragg: You have to really think far enough ahead to properly plan the budget and make sure you’ve thought of everything. Make sure you have the funds — and we did — but I know of some others that didn’t. They tried to start their police department and underestimated the start-up costs significantly. It either put them really far behind, or it just really wasn’t as successful as it could have been.
It’s also important to hire the right officers. Get the officers who have that little spark about them, who you know are there for the right reasons. It does take a different kind of officer to work in a school or educational law enforcement setting.
Students are juveniles, so there is a different perspective and way that officers have to work, act and think when they are dealing with the kids.
You’ve got to get those officers who make good first impressions and give kids a positive experience. Even though it may be a bad situation, you’ve got to get officers who can make those kids feel like it turned out to be a positive experience and that the officers were there to help.
Looking back on the process, would you have done anything differently?
Bragg: I would ask for someone to start with me as a second in command. For the first six months I was the Lone Ranger. We didn’t have any officers, but we technically had a police department on the books the day I came to work here.
All of a sudden, teachers, administrators and everybody said, ‘Hey, we have our own police department, let’s call him,’ but I was very busy trying to do everything else. I was on call 24/7.
What are the biggest challenges facing your department right now?
Bragg: One of our biggest challenges is growth. Our district is growing between 4 and 5 percent per year. There is just constant construction here, which brings more students into our district. We have to build more schools, and we have more places and incidents to respond to.
With growth comes increased traffic and the need for more infrastructure, water and sewer lines. It also translates into another big challenge: filling positions and recruiting.
How do you address the new construction?
Bragg: We have some good people in place who have projected a lot of these numbers out. We just finished passing a bond issue, which is going to help us. We’re buying some land to build new schools, and we’re doing a lot of renovation and repair work.
I get involved in the planning of the new schools because our district is really big on technology. I help lay out the design with the architects. I choose the camera locations and how we lay out the alarm systems.
We also have 11 schools with secure vestibules now, but our bond includes money to go back and retrofit every school. All visitors must come through one central point, and they’re in a glass room until we scan them with the Raptor [visitor tracking] system. We also have a camera in the vestibule.
Visitors just present a photo ID, like a driver’s license. The system scans that ID, checks 48 states to see if they’re registered sex offenders, and if they are, it comes up on the screen and shows the picture that’s on file. Plus, you have the picture on the driver’s license, and you can compare the two. If it is the same person, the system sends an E-mail to all of our supervisors and police department. It also notifies the school and attaches a picture — it actually sends it to my PDA if I’m out in the field.
In the CommCenter of the police department, we are currently monitoring more than 1,000 cameras located in the schools in our district.
What has been your biggest accomplishment with Spring ISD?
Bragg: I guess it was building the department from scratch. Not many people get to do that. I’ll retire and go to my grave knowing I got to do something pretty unique.
The other biggest thing I try to do is know that there’s no single solution to keeping kids safe. It’s just a balancing act every day to make sure you have a blend of physical security, fencing, locks, lighting, natural barriers and all of those thing you want from a
crime prevention standpoint. To me, it’s a balanced blend of having those things plus good technology and good professional officers.
The Bragg File
- Name: Alan Bragg
- Age: 57
- e: Chief of Police
- istrict: Spring Independent School District (ISD) is located in an unincorporated area of Harris County, Texas, 17 miles north of Houston and has 35,000 students with 4,687 staff members, teachers and other professionals. The district encompasses more than 57 square miles and has 20 elementary schools, with two more under construction, six middle schools, five high schools, a football stadium, maintenance facility, bus transportation facility, administration complex and police department.
- Department: 50 sworn officers, 38 of whom are full-time and 12 who are part-time. Spring ISD’s police department also has two civilian employees.
- Experience: FBI National Academy graduate; began his career in law enforcement in 1972 with the Wichita Falls, Texas, police department as an officer; two years with the Midwestern State University Police Department; nine years as a lieutenant with the Houston ISD’s police department. In 1991 he was hired to create and run Spring ISD’s police department.
Robin Hattersley Gray is the executive editor of Campus Safety magazine. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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