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West: School district adding a police department

Published: Jul. 27, 2021 at 2:07 AM CDT
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WEST, Texas (KWTX) - A local school district is going to be adding its own police force in the upcoming school year.

After the West Fertilizer Co. explosion in April of 2013, the West Independent School District built a new middle school and high school, and in November voters approved a bond package to replace West Elementary School.

Now school district leaders want those schools to get some extra protection.

“Some of the parents, they may have concerns as to why they need an ISD police department, I want to assure them that I don’t expect any major issues in the school district,” said Matthew Overcash. “I’m here more as a mentor, a counselor, as a leader for these kids to let them know that law enforcement is here for you because I know the way society is and the climate is not the greatest, but I know we can bridge that gap.”

Overcash, the current safety and security coordinator for West ISD, will be the new Chief of Police for West ISD, pending approval from the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE).

The school district has applied for approval with TCOLE, however, that approval can take up to 45 days, and if West ISD PD isn’t up and running by the time school starts on Aug. 25, Overcash will be the on-campus police authority under the umbrella of West PD.

West PD is currently holding Overcash’s commission as a licensed peace officer, however, he’s being paid by the school district, according to City of West Police Chief Darryl Barton.

“We’re happy to help in this transition,” Barton said.

Barton says this has been in the works for years in the small, but growing town that doesn’t see much serious crime.

“We’re blessed with not having a lot of bad apples, it’s a precautionary thing,” said Barton. “You can’t predict what’s going to happen, we didn’t predict an explosion would happen in our town but it did, so it’s better to be prepared.”

The Chief says the addition of an ISD police department frees up his officers while giving the school district peace of mind.

“We have to focus on the whole community, the businesses, the residents, so we can’t focus 100% of our efforts on the school,” said Barton. “We’ll still be there in a backup form for the school anytime they need us, but this allows them to have officers on campus available at any time.”

In Oct. 2020, West PD officers were called to the elementary school over a family violence situation.

Although had a good ending, Barton says it’s part of what pushed the school district’s decision to create its own police department over the edge.

“Worst case scenarios, you need something in place at all times,” said Barton. “That day turned out great, but it could have a been a different story if my officers were tied up on another priority call.”

With over 20 years of law enforcement experience under his belt, Overcash has been a street cop before.

However, he says “at school” is where he wants to be, in part because his sons go to West schools.

“They’re a little nervous about me being on campus as far as a dad...but other than that, they’re excited,” said Overcash.

Back in 2016, Overcash was working as an officer for West PD when he says his home was robbed right before Christmas.

“Without hesitation, Chief Barton jumped on Facebook and within two days I had, because of everyone around here, I had all the gifts replaced and a GoFundMe page I didn’t know about,” said Overcash. “That right there showed what this town is made of, at that point, I knew I wanted to give back.”

Overcash comes off a four-year stint as a school resource officer (SRO) for Connally ISD where he says he got a strong foundation for his new role.

“I’m just excited to get this year started, to get to know the kids, get them to know me beyond the uniform,” said Overcash. “I’m very excited for it, I accept the challenge.”

Barton had a message for the new chief.

“If you don’t have gray hair now, you’ll have that to look forward to,” Barton joked during the interview. “And the tough questions will always come your way.”

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