PHARR, RGV – Mexican law enforcement agencies are interested in using South Texas College’s eagerly-anticipated “Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence,” says STC President Shirley Reed.
The Regional Center for Public Excellence is a collaborative project between South Texas College, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District, and the City of Pharr. These entities held a groundbreaking ceremony last Friday at 4300 S. Cage Blvd in Pharr, which is just north of the floodway.
Attendees at the event included President Reed, state Sens. Juan ‘Chuy’ Hinojosa, D-McAllen, Eddie Lucio, Jr., D- Brownsville, PSJA ISD Superintendent Dr. Daniel King, and Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez, MD.
In an interview following the ceremony, Reed told the Rio Grande Guardian that Mexican law enforcement agencies are interested in accessing the new facility to train their officers.
“They have already been asking. Reynosa in particular,” Reed said.
“This would be a great opportunity to expand it internationally. There really is no limit as to what we can eventually put together at this facility, with all the land that we have. As new needs surface in our community we can prepare to respond and address them.”
A reporter pointed out to Reed that Tamaulipas Gov. Francisco Garcia Cabeza de Vaca had stated, during last year’s election campaign, that he wants to train his state’s elite police force in Texas. To which Reed replied: “It would be a great opportunity.”
In a press release, STC stated the RCPSE Center will provide the region with programs in public safety that further the education of prospective and current law enforcement. The new programs include fire science, law enforcement, and border security where in completion college level certificates and degrees will be granted.
RCPSE has been a long-cherished project for STC, ever since Mario Reyna, dean of business and technology, stressed the need for programs that provide tools and space to properly train local law enforcement. That was 15 years ago.
“Dean Mario Reyna talked about the need for law enforcement and public safety training for this region and the lack of opportunity,” Reed stated.
“I knew from my previous experience that community colleges all across the country were providing the peace officer certification, the fire science training and I kept saying, why aren’t we doing it in the Valley,” she said.
Reed told the Rio Grande Guardian that the need was brought into sharp focus when she discussed “Peace Officer Certification” with local police chiefs and they were not familiar with the program.
“We would talk to our police chiefs and that was a foreign concept to them. They would say, what would a college know about training a police officer?” Reed said.
Reed said the program took a lot of time and effort to put together, but says what matters is that the opportunity is now available.
“This is the right time for this project and we have to take advantage of that opportunity.”
The RCPSE facility will include a vehicle training course, a driving track, classroom, administration and office spaces, a computer lab, and shower/locker rooms. Additionally, a 360-degree simulation to respond to situations and other high technology training will be available. Reed said there is no other location in the Valley offering these training tools.
STC’s Chief of Police and Director of Safety and Security Paul Varville was present at the groundbreaking. Varville said courses in continuing education will be offered to police officers employed by police departments across the Valley. He said this opportunity will allow police officers to obtain college credit and TCOLE credit, a 40-hour credit required every two years.
“A number of students have expressed their desire to come to the South Texas College police academy from other areas because other facilities don’t offer credits for college,” Varville said.
Reed suggested with the opportunities the facility will offer, RCSPE could become a premier facility of interest to law enforcement agencies across South Texas.
“This facility, it will eventually be a state of the art, regional center and we are calling it the Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence. And I do stress excellence,” Reed said.
“We want it to be a premier facility where cadets can get their college degrees in law enforcement, they can be certified peace officers, we can provide the professional development for currently certified peace officers, and we can bring in training from all around the country for professionals here in the Valley.”
The City of Pharr and PSJA ISD contributed land for the construction of the new facility. Pharr donated 59 acres worth $2.5 million and PSJA ISD donated 10 acres, as well as $1 million to construct additional classrooms for dual enrollment students enrolled in criminal justice and public safety programs.
The $10 million investment is just the start, according to both Mayor Hernandez and Reed. They said the vision is for the center to develop from a public safety to a homeland security campus.
“The vision is for this to eventually be a homeland security campus. We can have the federal agencies, the local agencies and state law enforcement agencies all use the facility. That is the goal. That is the vision,” Reed said.
Hernandez told Rio Grande Guardian that Pharr wants to be the first city in the Valley to bring a homeland security campus to the region. He believes it will help with border security concerns.
“We want to expand from safety, into homeland security campus, we want to be first in the Valley,” Hernandez said.
“We are in the center of the Valley, so it’s convenient because there is a lot of worry about the border and immigration, but all of that has to be done with education.”
Hernandez added the campus is in its infancy stage, but is moving fast.
Hernandez pointed out that the project had been on life-support when he took office. It had been in this state for five-plus years, he said, due to lack of common ground between stakeholders.
“The problem was that we did not have a solid collaboration in the city [Pharr], STC, and at that time PSJA,” he said.
“We needed to come together under one roof and say what is best for the entire region, then we needed to bring all our resources together for optimization of funds and bring the political influence, and now we are moving in parallel also to transform the public safety campus at the same time being the epicenter for homeland security campus.”
In their remarks at the groundbreaking ceremony, Senators Hinojosa and Lucio said they will be looking to raid the Department of Homeland Security’s $800 million budget to help pay for the new training center. They asked Cindy Leon, a commissioner for DPS, to take note. Leon also spoke at the event.
To continue the development of the new campus, South Texas College has produced a master plan covering the next 20 years. Reed told the Rio Grande Guardian it may take this long to fully develop all the ideas due to the costs involved. Millions of additional dollars will be required, Reed said. The master plan has been produced by STC in conjunction with PBK and G2 Solutions Group, Inc. The document states:
The South Texas College Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence Long Range Master plan (LRMP) is designed to be a strategic roadmap for the physical development of the new campus over the next 20 years. The plan includes recommendations on program offerings based on the training and staff needs of the Rio Grande Valley. The LRMP serves as a valuable, fact-based planning tool for future facility related decision making. The results will be used to assist the college in determining where to focus and invest in terms of facilities and infrastructure. This is a very important step in guiding the College to realize the rewarding outcomes of its mission, purpose, core values and goals in meaningful and tangible ways – delivered in the form of facilities, learning environments, programs, opportunities and results.