Marfa ISD now monitored by armed school resource officer

City of Marfa Police Chief Steve Marquez swears in new School Resource Officer Ian Martinez at a ceremony held in the Marfa ISD Board Room last week. Photo by Mary Cantrell.

MARFA — Marfa Independent School District’s newly-hired school resource officer (SRO) took to his post on campus for the first time on Tuesday — the latest in a series of measures the district has put in place since a deadly mass school shooting in Uvalde spurred statewide calls to enhance school security.

The officer, 21-year-old Ian Martinez, is a Marfa ISD graduate from the Class of 2019, making him an already-familiar presence to many on campus. He was sworn in at a Friday ceremony attended by school staff, city employees and members of the Marfa Police Department. His mother, Lori Valerio, pinned his new badge to his uniform. 

Martinez is, in fact, a Marfa PD officer, as his badge indicates, and with that comes the power to enforce the law — but the role of an SRO is distinct. Martinez is also an employee of the school district, said Marfa Police Chief Steve Marquez, who explained the SRO is “commissioned through the police department and assigned to the school.” Martinez’s salary is funded jointly by the school district and the City of Marfa.

The school district began discussing hiring an armed officer for the campus over the summer, when fears prompted by the shooting at Uvalde’s Robb Elementary School — which left 19 students dead — led board members to scrutinize their school’s security. Since then, the campus has undergone a security audit focused on the campus’ exterior doors, ensuring they lock properly, and has installed 37 security cameras viewable by the Marfa Police Department. The idea of arming teachers was floated by board members.

“I just encourage you all to consider options for us so that we’re no longer sitting ducks,” MISD Junior High and High School Principal Luane Porter said in a June school board meeting. “In a utopian world, we would be full of law enforcement 24/7. But that’s not reality.”

Martinez’s daily duties include roaming the school “as a presence,” and to ensure doors stay locked and that students are not letting in unauthorized visitors. 

City of Marfa Police Chief Steve Marquez, School Resource Officer Ian Martinez and Marfa ISD Superintendent Oscar Aguero pose for a photo at a swearing in ceremony for Martinez last week. Photo by Mary Cantrell.

Because their jurisdiction is within a school campus, disciplinary matters will still fall under the purview of the school itself first, explained Marquez, and school resource officers may only become involved in enforcement  if an incident rises to a level that would warrant the filing of criminal charges. A fight on campus, for example, would first be investigated internally by school officials, who would bring in the SRO in the case of serious bodily injury. 

“The school is a whole different entity,” said Marquez. “There’s a lot of incidents the school would have to take care of first under their policies, and if it reaches the point where it becomes a criminal act they have an officer on scene.”

Martinez — who is armed with a gun and taser, and equipped with handcuffs — explained he was on-sight as a “presence” — to be called upon if needed. He said that he would break up a fight if he felt the situation was potentially dangerous to students, but ultimately, penalizing such an incident would fall to the school first.

“School-wise, there’s some stuff the school has to handle themselves, but I’m here mainly as a presence,” he said. “If there’s things that need to involve me, I will be involved.”

School resource officers are required to undergo an SRO-specific training, which Martinez will do in April. In the meantime, Chief Marquez — who has undergone the SRO training — is acting in a mentor role, and would be called upon if an incident unfolded prior to the training. Martinez himself has undergone active shooter training.

Marfa is hardly alone in its decision to bring an armed officer onto its school campus. The presence of school police departments on Texas campuses has surged since 2017; calls to equip campuses with armed officers were renewed by elected officials in the wake of Uvalde. Both Fort Davis and Alpine school districts have armed officers on campus.

“We have had school marshals since 2014, and we also use all options available for arming staff under the ‘Guardian’ program,” said Fort Davis ISD Superintendent Graydon Hicks. “There are armed staff at both campuses and have been since 2014.”

Alpine ISD Superintendent Michelle Rhinehart said it employs three school resource officers provided by the Brewster County Sheriff’s Department — one for each of the district’s campuses.

The matter of increasing police presence on school grounds is contentious — research indicates the presence of police in schools does not increase safety, but may increase disciplinary actions.

Chief Marqeuz said he believes the presence of an officer on campus — knowing someone is there to assist if needed — makes those attending school and parents at home feel a greater sense of safety.

“We all know of the school shootings and things like that,” said Marquez. “It’s basically a way of easing the minds of the students and teachers and parents in the community, knowing someone’s there.”

Five Marfa ISD students who spoke to The Big Bend Sentinel felt either neutral or positively about Martinez’s presence. 

“A lot of people think it’s Marfa, nothing could happen here, but it could happen in any school,” said senior Ummi Chanez, who said Martinez’s presence made her feel safer “in case anything were to happen.” 

“Having a police officer on campus is definitely going to make parents feel safer, and definitely makes the tight-knit community feel better about having their kids go to school,” she continued.