AUSTIN, Texas – State Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., says there is “every chance” that a proposed DPS training academy for the Rio Grande Valley could be merged with plans by the City of Pharr and South Texas College to create a Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence.
The idea of establishing a DPS training academy in the Rio Grande Valley first came from state Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra and state Sen. Juan Hinojosa. Just before the 84th Legislature commenced the two legislators said they want DPS to “invest in a training facility in the Valley so that troopers will become acclimated and familiar with the Valley culture and its communities.” Currently, DPS trains all of its troopers in Austin.
Late last month, Lucio announced DPS had agreed to the idea of a training facility in the Valley. In a news release, Lucio said DPS has included an “exceptional item funding request for a regional training facility in the Valley” in its budget request to the Texas Senate.
Lucio is a member of the Senate Border Security Subcommittee. In his news release, Lucio said DPS’s proposal would “maximize and complement ongoing efforts” related to border security and safety with the funding of a training center that includes firearms range.
In an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian in Austin last week, Lucio was asked if the DPS facility could be interwoven with what the City of Pharr and South Texas College wants to do.
“Absolutely – in my mind they do go together and that is where I hope we can establish an academy for all law enforcement agencies and cadets and everyone seeking to train for law enforcement agencies. We want them to come and take part in this facility,” Lucio said.
“I certainly support the Department of Public Safety’s effort to establish a training academy in the Valley. I will do everything I can to make sure it is centered in the middle of the Valley where it is accessible to everyone. It appears that Pharr, Texas, is the area we should be looking at to establish this facility.”
In his news release, Lucio includes a quote from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Lucio brought Patrick to the Valley on a fact-finding trip a month before the 84th Legislature convened. “I am grateful to Senator Lucio for welcoming me to the Rio Grande Valley and coordinating a meeting with the commissioners of Pharr,” Patrick said. “This project will not only help secure our border but it will train local law enforcement to improve public safety.”
Lucio pointed out that the 600 or so commissioned DPS officers operating in the Valley have to travel to Austin for in-service and training. “The proposed regional training facility would provide needed resources to enhance the ability to conduct joint, tactical training between local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies to increase effectiveness and reduce the likelihood of injury or death from violent encounters,” the senator’s news release stated.
“In South Texas, we value the safety and security provided by local, state, and federal law enforcement because we know our economic security depends on it,” Lucio said, in his news release. “In the state’s efforts to bolster drug interdiction and deter against organized crime, I am pleased to support this proposal that would facilitate regional training in the Rio Grande Valley. As the son of a deputy sheriff and as a member of the Subcommittee on Border Security, I’m pleased to serve in a capacity to support the women and men that keep our cities secure. I’m grateful to Governor Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick for their commitment to safe communities.”
The plans being developed by STC and the City of Pharr, along with other regional partners such as PSJA ISD, received legislative approval through a House Resolution authored in 2013 by state Rep. Sergio Muñoz. “HCR 219 supports the establishment of the Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence in Pharr that will be administered by South Texas College. The center will develop and provide initial and continuing education and training, credit of which could be used towards an Associate of Applied Science Degree and basic peace officer certification for law enforcement personnel in the Rio Grande Valley,” Muñoz said, after his resolution was passed into law.
Pharr City Manager Fred Sandoval said at the time Muñoz passed his resolution that Pharr had set aside 40 acres for the STC-City of Pharr project. In an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian in Austin last week, Sandoval said he could offer a lot more than 40 acres, if DPS would like to merge its plans with those of STC and the City of Pharr. Sandoval said he would get with other Valley cities to explain the STC/Pharr proposal and to get regional buy-in.
“South Texas College is a great partner to work with on something as important as this; and equally important is the leadership of our Rio Grande Valley state senators and representatives who advocate on behalf of South Texas,” Sandoval said, in a news release issued soon after Lucio announced DPS wanted to move ahead with a training academy in the Valley.
Sandoval said the South Texas College Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence will be “an accredited institution where individuals will be able to earn a basic peace officer certificate that leads toward an associate of applied science degree in law enforcement and a wide range of related certificates, associate degrees, and bachelor degrees.” In addition, Sandoval said, the complex “will be able to accommodate all the professional continuing education courses required by all law enforcement officers.”
Once completed, Sandoval predicted, the South Texas College Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence will serve as an education and training center on border security and public safety in South Texas. He said facilities are expected to include classroom settings, mobile firearms simulator, outdoor shooting range, fitness rooms, firearms simulator, an obstacle course and a vehicle driving range designed to offer life-like situations in a safe training environment.
The City of Pharr’s news release said Pharr leaders are “grateful that our state’s legislative leadership acknowledges that training in border safety and border security is a matter of vital importance. South Texas has a growing need for highly trained law enforcement professionals to ensure the security of the citizens of the Lone Star State.”
Editor’s Note: This story has been revised to correct an earlier posting. Senator Lucio is no longer a member of the Senate Committee on Finance, which helps write the state budget.