Since 2004, Avera, the Assistant Chief for DISD, helped expand the department to 211 employees and diversify its capabilities to include patrol, gang intervention specialists, crime analysts, emergency management personnel, and school officers. Dallas is the second largest district in Texas, serving about 160,000 students and 21,000 employees in 300 buildings across seven municipalities.
“We’re policing a city of 180,000 residents a day,” said Avera. “We are second in the state behind only Houston school district, and we vary between the 15th and 16th largest school district in the nation.” Before the police department was established in 2003, the school district contracted for service with surrounding departments. In 2003, the district received a grant from the COPS program to hire 16 officers to begin the DISD police force.
“We started by building a profile of the officers we were looking to police people’s most precious resource – their children,” said Avera. “It’s been a challenge, but it’s been fun.”
At first, the district selected only certified peace officers, seeking those more interested in community policing and problem-solving than aggressive law and order candidates. Later, the district invited graduates of the school district to apply and paid them to go to the police academy. Avera looks for officers who mirror the population of the school district, which is 70 percent Hispanic, are even-tempered, understand the importance of education, and contribute diverse experiences.
“We have a very, very excellent group,” Avera said. “We are looking for a special kind of person, and we know them when we see them.”
Avera said the greatest asset of the police department is its employees and among the biggest achievements of DISD to date are keeping salaries competitive with 160 other law enforcement departments in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex; providing enhanced training opportunities to officers; and standardizing equipment in the district. The district requires officers to participate in 20 hours of training annually, and it continually searches for opportunities targeting school-based law enforcement, such as mental health, restorative discipline, and others. It also standardized equipment for officers in the department and expanded safety and security by using technology and cameras.
Avera currently is the second in command at DISD and serves as the district emergency management coordinator. District police cross train with municipal police departments in their 385 square mile district for such issues as an active shooter, emergency management, and other drills.
Avera credits Sam Houston State University with helping him throughout his career and said he would have never gotten the chief’s job in Brownfield without the degree. He was among the first to take classes in the George J. Beto Criminal Justice Center.
“That place has had such an impact on me over the years,” said Avera. “It literally made all the different in the world. Once a Bearkat, always a Bearkat.”