CENTER POINT TX March 12 2018 — He’s still getting used to being called “chief,” but it’s clear that Jimmy Poole is comfortable leading the newly created Center Point Independent School District Police Department.
“I like to talk to kiddos,” said Poole, 62, whose long law enforcement career includes two years as a school resource officer in Kerrville.
He also spent 25 years as a Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission officer and was a Kerr County deputy for five years, ending last November.
He encourages students to call him Officer Poole, saying: “I feel awkward with the title. I’ve never been a chief before.”
Despite Poole’s relaxed outward demeanor, he’s all too aware of the gravity surrounding his new job, especially in the wake of last month’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead.
“In law enforcement, you’re always defensive,” said Poole, whose time behind a badge began in 1977 as a Brazoria County deputy. “I am always in fear of my life and in fear of someone harming others.”
The Center Point rural district moved to establish its own police presence last year after the Kerr County sheriff’s deputy who’d been assigned here part time took a different job and no other deputy immediately wanted the position.
Local school trustees, who authorized district employees several years ago to bring guns on campus if they are kept locked in vehicles, considered arming teachers and/or having no security presence before spending just over $100,000 to establish the district’s Police Department.
“We had to buy everything, from a new Tahoe down to the reflective vest to wear while directing traffic,” Superintendent Cody Newcomb said.
Security problems are rare on the single campus that includes three schools serving 560 students in prekindergarten through 12th grade, but Newcomb noted that without Poole, it could take 20 minutes for help to arrive from Kerrville in an emergency.
“It’s rare that we even have a fight,” the superintendent said as a smiling Poole greeted elementary students arriving one recent morning. “But, in this day and age, you can never be too safe.”
It took only a few hours for Poole to crack his first criminal case, the spraying of graffiti on school buildings, for which a student was arrested on a felony charge.
A bank of television monitors in Poole’s office allows him to keep an eye on the three schools and other district facilities on the campus.
The gun safe there doubles as an evidence locker for Poole, who uses walkie-talkies to converse with other employees and a police radio to communicate with sheriff’s dispatchers.
Since he can’t be everywhere at once, Poole has stressed to staff and students the importance of being alert for suspicious conduct.
Elementary Principal Jennifer George welcomed the arrival of Poole in November. He initially was a security guard while helping obtain state approval to form the new department and was sworn in as chief Jan. 24.
During the months preceding his arrival, when no officer was there, George said, “I felt a little more pressure to be the eyes and ears.”
The district asked Kerr County in 2013 to provide a deputy, School Board President Mike Butler said, “because we didn’t feel comfortable arming teachers. We wanted someone who was trained as a peace officer to handle that.”
The district later opted to create its own force, in part so there’s no chance a deputy assigned to the campus might be dispatched to an emergency elsewhere in the county, leaving the campus unguarded.
“We’re glad that Jimmy’s on board with us,” Butler said. “He’s available to do what we want since he works for us.”
Trustees recently approved adding a second, part-time officer to maintain a law enforcement presence when Poole is ill or has days off.
About 150 of the state’s 1,247 public school districts have police departments, according to the Texas Association of School Boards, which said more than 250 districts that lack police departments do have school resource officers.
Kerrville police have two school resource officers assigned to campuses there, Officer Juan Trevizo said.
In light of recent incidents elsewhere, Kerr County Sheriff Rusty Hierholzer said he has instructed deputies to pay more attention to school campuses.
He said he supports arming teachers, if they’re properly trained, “Because what it’s going to take to stop a school shooter is guns.”
Pole sees school shootings as a symptom of societal decline rather than an indictment of guns.
“All four years of high school, I drove my dad’s truck to school and it had a gun rack in it and guns in it and I never rolled the windows up,” he recalled. “You didn’t have to lock your doors because nobody was going to bother anything.”