Sulphur Springs Independent School District continues to grow its police department, with five skilled seasoned officers who collectively have more than 135 years of criminal justice service on the rost this school year.
“School police haven’t been around forever,” said SSISD Police Chief Harold Wilson. “They made this department when the school system started to expand. They decided they needed security. They’ve added officers as [the district] grew. As with all school safety, we are the first responders if a situation occurs at a school.”
What some may not realize is that SSISD police are commissioned law enforcement officers, who have all of the certifications and abilities to enforce the law just as any police or law enforcement officer in the state of Texas.
“We are officers like any other in the state of Texas, we have the exact arrest and other capabilities as any other officer in the state,” said Officer Norman Sanders, whose primary assignment is Sulphur Springs Middle School, although he, like the other campus police officers, can be called on to assist at any campus or to assist other area law enforcement if needed.
Each officer has the requisite peace officer certification through the state, the same weapons training, have at their disposal the same crime-fighting tools and attain a minimum of 40 continuing education training credits every two years — although most SSISD officers exceed that, as well as in-service training within the district, and they participate in fire, lock down and other safety drills at school.
In the past, the district has relied heavily on grants to cover at least of a portion of the force’s expenses. Those grants over the last few years have provided funding which allowed the district to continue to add officers to help cover various campuses in the growing district.
Security cameras, also obtained through grants, are an additional tool not only for monitoring but also can be helpful if an issue arises for a particular area. School staff can go back through the feeds checking for an exact date, time and location. For instance, if an item is reported stolen from a hallway on a Tuesday morning, officials can go back and pull the digital information and review it to see if anyone can be seen taking the item. If so, the information can be saved onto a digital device and used as evidence for prosecution if needed.
“The cameras help us do our job,” Wilson added. “We have so many you almost can’t commit a crime on campus without being on camera. There are security cameras and radios on buses that also help us do our job. We can go back and find something. That’s evidence, and it’s hard to challenge when you have it right there recorded.”
This year, for the first time, the SSISD Police Department has an actual budget, which can be used for items like uniforms and equipment.
The school board also earlier this summer approved purchase of a new car for officers at the high school, a much-needed replacement for an aging vehicle which also is in line with the direction the department is going — a new 2014 Dodge Charger police vehicle like those being used by many police departments across the state and country. The car was put into service this month at high school for use by SSISD Senior Officer Gordon “Lurch” Fulcher and Officer Glynda Chester.
The new vehicle will provide another car the officers can use to patrol around SSHS, including Houston Street in front of the school and the stadium bus hub, Connally Street and the streets in Buford Park near the baseball fields and football stadium. The newer cars have radar so officers can check passing motorists’ speed, adding that to the list of citations SSISD police can issue to motorists caught violating traffic laws or other regulations.
And of course, officers will be out before and after school, helping direct personal vehicle and bus traffic to ensure motorist and pedestrian safety.
SSISD Police Department is working to be a more visible presence on campuses and around the community. SSISD Police Department now has a page on the the district’s website (http://www.ssisd.net under departments menu) so the community can see who’s policing their schools, as well as information about the officers and how to contact them either by phone or email.
Wilson plans to have lunch periodically among students at the various campuses from Early Childhood Learning Center up through Sulphur Springs Elementary to increase visibility and hopefully establish a rapport with students, help them become more comfortable around police officers and help allay any misconceptions or fears children may have about police only being “out to get them.”
“We have a close relationship with the kids. We treat them like our own children. Our job is to protect and serve the students and the teachers. We realize we are dealing with kids,” Wilson said.
Harold Wilson has been working in the criminal justice system since December 1973. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Texas A&M University-Commerce, with emphasis in criminal justice, criminology and political science.
After graduating from the police academy in Kilgore, he spent most of his career in Wood County. He worked for the Wood County Community Supervision and Correction Department for 25 years, retiring as chief of that department. He also worked at Winnsboro and Quitman police departments. He is certified through Texas Commission on Law Enforcement and Officer Standards and Education as a master peace officer. He currently has 4,659 hours of police training.
When he applied at SSISD, Bill Brewer was the chief. He interviewed for an officer position. A few days later, he was notified he’d be named chief of SSISD Police Department. Wilson attended the Bill Blackwood Institute in Huntsville, which provides training for chiefs. He returns every two years for updates.
He said part of his job and that of other SSISD police officers particularly this year will be to build stronger police-community relationships. The chief recently attended a class which gave ways officers can do that and will be putting some of them into practice.
Wilso’s office is located at Austin Academic Center, but he also makes a point during the school day to patrol through and check in at the various elementary campuses throughout the district.
SSHS Senior Officer
Gordon Fulcher, or “Lurch” as he’s known to many, has been in law enforcement since 1977. He earned his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from East Texas State University. He earned his basic peace officer certification at Commerce, where East Texas Police Academy offered a class. He was employed with Sulphur Springs Police Department for 25 years, holding numerous positions including dispatcher and patrol officer, before retiring. He also has been involved with Beat the Heat drag racing for a number of years and while at SSPD, also donned the McGruff suit to teach kids about safety. He’s even lent assistance as Santa on occasion. He currently has 3,593 hours of police training.
Now a master peace officer, this marks Fulcher’s 12th year with SSISD Police Department. His primary assignment is Sulphur Springs High School.
Norman Sanders has 28 years experience in law enforcement. He attained his basic peace officer certification from ETPA-Kilgore. He retired from Sulphur Springs Police Department three years ago, becoming an SSISD police officer. He is assigned to SSMS.
He brings a unique insight to the job. In addition to nearly three decades as a police officer, Sanders also is ex-military, having served in the United States Navy. He also served two terms on SSISD Board of Trustees In fact, the district officially hired its first police officer while he served on the school board. He also served on the school board when the first cameras and security locks were installed at the grade school campuses, the SSISD officer noted.
The district received grants to help facilitate these security measures throughout the district; Sanders, as a board member, helped to oversee that process. Currently, SSMS has at least 100 security cameras to monitor various areas of the campus at all times; those feeds are recorded. SSHS also has close to 100 cameras now, Douglas and the elementary schools have about 22 each, and ECLC has 15-20.
He also served on the school board when funds became available to put cameras and radios on school buses, adding another tool to help officers do their jobs.
Like several of the officers, Sanders also has specialized training, including as a hostage negotiator. He is certified through TCLEOSE as an advanced peace officer and currently has 1,247 hour of police training as well.
At the school, Sanders also started up and oversees the SSMS/SSHS Fishing Club, which he views as yet another opportunity to interact with and mentor students.
Officer Glynda Chester has worked in the legal system for numerous years, but didn’t become a peace officer until about 10 years ago.
“I started out in civil law as a paralegal in family law working for Tommy Allison,” said Chester, who worked there for about 20 years. “Then, 9/11happened and changed everything. I wanted to protect and serve.”
She attended East Texas Police Academy in Sulphur Spring during the fall 2002-spring 2003 class and graduated with her basic peace officer certification in May 2003. She was soon hired as a deputy at Hopkins County Sheriff’s Office, for which she became the D.A.R.E. instructor, teaching drug education to students in the six county school districts. She also helped oversee the reserve deputy program.
Chester is also certified through the state licensing agency as an asp baton and handcuff instructor, and has assisted in teaching specialized skills during some subsequent ETPA classes. She currently has 1,817 hours of police training.
She was hired five years ago by SSISD police to serve as an officer, with Douglas Intermediate School her primary campus assignment. In addition to campus officer, Chester's duties also included teaching drug and bullying prevention to Douglas fifth graders. She remained the Douglas officer until April, when a fifth officer was added to the SSISD Police Department roster; at that time, she made the move to SSHSs. She also serves as the SSISD Police Department training coordinator.
Chester said one of the highlights of her career as a peace officer so far has been having former students she’s taught drug and other topics seek her out to say they remembered and applied the lessons she taught them when making a decision. She said working with and making a difference in children’s lives is the best reward of working for a school police department.
Officer Donny Gaddis retired from Texas Department of Criminal Justice after 20 years of service. He attended every training available at that level, including topics dealing with chemical agents, defensive tactics and weapons training.
He then attend ETPA’s basic peace officer certification class, which at the time was offered in Sulphur Springs, and attained the needed certification. He worked for SSPD as a reserve officer, then part-time as a patrol officer. When the position for another officer of SSISD Police opened up in the spring, he applied and got it. In April, he replaced Glynda Chester at Douglas Intermediate School as the officer for that campus. He continues to serve in that capacity this year, and does some part-time work for SSPD as needed when not working at SSISD PD.
Gaddis has 840 hours of police training, and indicated he will likely continue in the tradition set by Chester, teaching some drug and safety prevention topics at Douglas, too.
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