Marfa Police Department receives grant for school resource officer, purchases new patrol unit

MARFA — Recently-awarded federal grants will allow the Marfa Police Department to subsidize the cost of the school resource officer (SRO) currently stationed on Marfa ISD’s campus and purchase a new patrol vehicle for border security. 

As of last February — shortly before House Bill 3 made it compulsory for the state’s public school districts to station armed security officers at every campus — Marfa ISD has been monitored by an SRO. The school district and city partnered to pursue grant funding for the position back in June 2022 and received news this January they were awarded $121,500 from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Hiring Program. 

The COPS grant will cover 75% of the SRO’s salary for the next three years, with the other 25% being covered by the city, which will be reimbursed by the district. “Overall, it will cost us and the school $40,000 total for a three-year period, which is extremely manageable,” said City Manager Mandy Roane in a recent City Council meeting.  

Interim Superintendent Arturo Alferez said the COPS grant will help alleviate the burden of an additional full-time salary on the financially-struggling district. “We do budget for the salary of an SRO officer, so it’s going to help the district in the long run,” he said. 

Alferez said he was still working out the details with the city, but it is likely the grant funds will begin to cover the SRO salary starting next school year, and he is grateful for the city’s efforts to pursue the grant. “For us it’s great, it just shows the agreement that we have with the district and the city and how we are collaborating with each other,” Alferez said.

Earlier this year, the district received news it was pre-approved to receive over $300,000 in school security grant funds from the Texas Education Agency, which it plans to spend on facilities enhancements like silent panic alert buttons. 

While Officer Ian Martinez was initially hired for the full-time SRO position, both he and Officer Arturo Alferez, son of the interim superintendent, are currently operating as SROs, rotating every month. Marfa Police Chief Gilberto Carrillo said the rotation is in place so that the officers — both of which are relatively new to the policing profession — can also gain experience patrolling streets.

Interim Superintendent Alferez said the SROs are an asset to the district and are actively involved with campus goings-on. “Officers are not just sitting behind the desk,” he said. “They’re engaged with student activities, with the events that happen in the school.”

The City of Marfa is one of over 30 Texas municipalities to receive COPS grant funds. The news comes shortly after city administrators learned they will receive $500,000 in grant funds for street repairs. So far, 2023-2024 is shaping up to be a banner year for grant awards, Roane said. “For those of you keeping track, we’re at about $820,000 in grant funds since the beginning of the fiscal year, so we’re not messing around,” she said. 

In a recent meeting, City Council members also approved the purchase of a new $85,000 patrol unit for Marfa P.D. which will be obtained using grant funds from Operation Stonegarden, a federal border security program administered by Homeland Security. 

The new patrol unit joins the fleet of five Chevrolet Tahoes the department added in 2022 with $211,000 in grant funds from Operation Lonestar, Governor Greg Abbott’s border security initiative. 

Marfa P.D. received $280,362 this fiscal year from Operation Stonegarden, money it has spent on a new license plate reader, officer overtime, vehicle maintenance and the new patrol unit, which will be a Ford Explorer. “This vehicle is equipped with lights, sirens, all the bells and whistles except for camera and radio, because that’s one of the things that Stonegarden doesn’t pay for,” Chief Carrillo explained to council members. 

In a follow up interview with The Big Bend Sentinel, Carrillo said that Marfa P.D. officers earn overtime after their regular shifts or on weekends by working Operation Stonegarden. He said the process involves getting approval from Border Patrol, then himself, to spend time on border security initiatives — mostly traffic stops. 

“The person that is doing Stonegarden is just for traffic stops. They do not take any city calls. They can back up the officer on duty, but their job is to do traffic stops, try to stop illegal drugs, illegal money going south and all that,” Carrillo explained to City Council members. “If Border Patrol needs assistance, then we go out and assist them.” 

Councilmember Eddie Pallarez asked how the department would use the new patrol vehicle exclusively for Operation Stonegarden, versus regular patrol. Carrillo said officers going out on Operation Stonegarden hours will use the vehicle, or if the P.D. is notified of a border-related incident and called upon by Border Patrol to assist, they would switch from their patrol vehicle to the Operation Stonegarden-funded patrol unit.