There’s a new cop in town — er school — or as least to the Como-Pickton campus. Sulphur Bluff native Bobby Neal joined the C-P Consolidated Independent School District staff April 8 as chief of police.
C-P CISD trustees have been evaluating school safety procedures, protocols and precautions this school year to make the school as safe as possible for students. Earlier this year, they asked the superintendent to research what would be needed, feasibility, cost and advantages of creating a school resource officer position at the school. The board decided last month to post the opening for a campus police officer. Interviews were conducted and a list of four submitted to the board, with Neal recommended at the top choice. The board officially hired him to head up a campus police department April 8.
Neal brings 24 years of experience in law enforcement to the job. He retired the first week of April from Hopkins County Sheriff’s Office, where he began his career as a jailer, two years later became a patrol deputy and had served since 1997 as HCSO’s civil process deputy.
He retired one week and reported for duty the next as Como-Pickton’s chief of police, and so far is loving every minute of it.
“It’s working out really well. I’ve really enjoyed it. My stress level has been less here than when I was at the county [sheriff’s office]. I was driving 200 to 300 miles a day to locate people and serve paperwork. Everything is all right here in one location. It’s been a blast for me.The kids high five me, some hug me.”
The adjustment has been an easy transition for Neal.
“I know a lot of the kids. I’ve known many people here a long time. Most of the teachers I knew from doing security over the years. Working ball games and extra activities, I know a lot of parents too. You learn them, seeing them bring their kids to games and things,” said Neal, referring to the 22 years he’s provided security at extracurricular activities and events such as prom at the school. “This place is more like family. This school is very family-oriented.”
“He’s doing a phenomenal job,” said Dr. Kay Handlin, CPCISD superintendent. “He’s here from about 7:30 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon. He will have to go this summer for school resource officer training. He is currently working on all that’s needed for the application to get our law enforcement number. He’s diligent. He’s networking with other schools that have police departments, finding out more about that.”
Neal said over the next two years he’ll have to get in 80 hours of training for school resource officers. He’ll get half of it starting with the SRO training in June, then the rest the following summer. After that, he’ll have to get in the same number of training hours other law enforcement officers are required to have in order to keep their certification current.
“My goal is to get the training for school resource officer done so I can have it under my belt. Then, I’ll know exactly what I’m dealing with when it comes to school laws. School is a whole different world. I want to learn it so I can do it right, and know the right thing to say to parents if I have to tell a parent I’ve arrested their child or given their student a ticket. Discipline in school is quite a bit different. I’ll be taking a class on how to restrain children. What I’m used to in regular law enforcement is quite different from schools. It’s a learning process for them [the school district] and me.”
Right now, Neal is familiarizing himself with the district — the grounds, students, staff and parents as well as policies and procedures.
“We’re taking one thing at a time. Getting the police department established is the number one thing,” Neal said.
He’s currently working to complete all of the requirements Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education, the licensing and regulatory agency for law enforcement, stipulates in order to secure a department number to officially be recognized as a school police department.
But, Neal’s first task was devising a standard police uniform, one that blends in at CPCISD yet establishes his position at the same time.
He selected a blue polo shirt onto which he had emblazoned a yellow “badge” with “Chief, Como-Pickton ISD, Texas” on the upper corner where a pocket would go, tan slacks and his duty belt, complete with needed tools — including, yes, a gun.
“Several have asked, ‘If he’s a security guard, why does he wear a gun?’” said Handlin. It’s not too unreasonable a question considering schools are generally gun-free zones.
“He’s a peace officer, not a security guard. He’s police, law enforcementm” she explained.
Neal’s peace officer certification allows him to carry weapons on the campus much the same way they would any public facility.
And for now, Neal’s primary tasks are walking the campus making sure everyone is where they should be, that students out and about during classes have the appropriate hall passes and that things go smoothly without a lot of horseplay in the halls as students are changing classes. He also makes sure that all visitors have the appropriate name badge printed in the school office. If not, he redirects them to get one. He checks the buildings to make sure all are secure and nothing is amiss.
He’s onhand when school buses unload in the morning and load in the afternoon. And, he also monitors the parking lot during the day as well as during peak hours high school students are leaving or entering campus and as parents are picking up or delivering their kids to school. He makes sure no one is in cars or leaving that should not be.
Neal also monitors the two lunch areas at meal times to make sure no stray food goes flying unnecessarily and there’s less horseplay, that the lines move smoothly. He’s even helped carry food between buildings when it’s been served elsewhere.
“I’m doing a lot more walking. I hardly sit down,” he laughed. “The days go real fast.”
“I walk the halls all the time. I often run into him. He’s out and about,” Handlin said.
And, if needed he can draw on his prior skills as a civil process deputy to help enforce any custody, restraining or protective orders that affect school children and staff. He keeps an eye on parents during those morning drop-offs and evening pick-ups of students, ready should a dispute among spouses or parents and staff arise to take appropriate action to prevent the situation from escalating.
“I had good training as a civil process deputy,” noted Neal. “I can use what I learned in divorces, and serving other civil paperwork, including protective and restraining orders. It makes you more aware of people’s attitudes. Here, it can help you deal with situations that might arise.”
The chief said the new door locking system being installed at each campus will also help reduce any potential situations as well. Parents and other school visitors will have to buzz the office via an outdoor intercom, identify themselves in order to gain entry to the building, then submit their driver’s licenses to be scanned. Only approved individuals would be admitted. Should the records check using the visitor’s driver’s license reveal the visitor to be a sex offender, that person would be denied entry to the school. They’d be asked to leave.
Neal also can assist if a fight breaks out or a situation arises with a difficult student, staff or visitor. His presence is a deterrent for many students considering misbehaving, according to Handlin. A stern look or reminder of the rules is often warning enough to dissuade most students from acting out, he noted.
School officials are also talking about furnishing a car so Neal can better reach the more distant parts of the campus, like the bus barn and greenhouse. It’ll be useful if he has to go off campus later on too.
That would be especially helpful if, as is being discussed, campus police begin addressing truancy issues. It would give police a vehicle to drive to homes to locate students for whom attendance is sometimes an issue.
The school is also considering the possibility of allowing Neal to write citations for certain infractions too.
“My main job is to make sure everything goes as well as it can. I can’t necessarily be on top of something if it goes down here — I walk the entire campus and may be on the other side — but I’m here to control it. And, the county has indicated they will send help if we need it,” Neal said.
And, although it’s not part of his official duties as school police chief, Neal says parents can still expect to see him at his part-time job as security officer at after-hours functions as well.
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