301.519.9237 exdirector@nesaus.org

6.13.24 – KXAN Austin – ROUND ROCK, Texas – by: Kelly Wiley.

Mayra Mathis stands in the dark dispatch center inside Round Rock High School, pointing to a map of the district’s 56 schools.

Before discussing changes the district is making to get its police officers to campuses quicker, she explains how she and other dispatchers learn of 911 calls at their schools.

Round Rock ISD campuses span four jurisdictions, including the City of Austin and Travis County. Mathis explains that 911 calls automatically go to one of four 911 centers or Public Safety Answering Points (PSAP) in the region first. The PSAP first routes the call to Williamson County’s Dispatch Center and then to Round Rock Independent School District’s dispatchers and police officers.

“There is a bit of a delay, just naturally,” Mathis explains.

The delay is largely undefined. Round Rock ISD is withholding data showing its average police response times. Unlike some other school districts in the area, its legal team cites a 2020 Texas attorney general ruling that allows agencies to withhold that information if they believe it could jeopardize public safety.Play Video

Round Rock ISD police want to respond faster. County partners worry about their plans

“We don’t share average response times so that bad actors can’t take advantage of vulnerabilities,” a district spokesperson said in a statement to KXAN.

Records show an internal investigation from October 2023 mentioned issues with the radios and dispatch office were “frustrating” to some officers. The report suggested there were issues with the radios and a fear among officers that the new dispatch center may not be able to handle severe security issues quickly.

Round Rock ISD Superintendent Hafedh Azaiez tried to describe the problem. He said there was no way to reduce police response times without making changes, particularly around police radios and 911 calls. Many of the district’s changes were made under the district’s previous police chief, Dennis Weiner, who has since been placed on administrative leave.State agency confirms investigation of Round Rock ISD police leadership

According to district officials, 911 centers or PSAPs in the area of Round Rock ISD schools still route the district’s calls to the Williamson County dispatch center first, but district officials said they have changed how they communicate internally. Non-life-threatening calls will go directly to the district’s self-dispatch center during regular business hours.

When we asked Williamson County about that process, it said 911 calls from the district’s campuses should come directly to the county, not the other PSAPs. County officials said it contacted the district to have its phone system’s configuration corrected.

Testing police radios

Azaiez said there is also an ongoing problem with its police radios dropping out in certain parts of its school buildings. At times, and depending on where they are, officers struggle to hear the radios Williamson County provides.

Round Rock ISD Superintendent Hafedh Azaiez answers questions about the district’s public safety. (KXAN Photo/Richie Bowes)

“They have to walk a couple of feet down to an area where there is better coverage,” Azaiez said.

The district purchased new push-to-talk radios that use Wi-Fi and a federally funded cellular network to solve the radio coverage issue. Azaiez said officers will still carry the radios they’ve used for years, but the new technology will be a redundancy to ensure they are covered. However, the changes have drawn criticism from the district’s main partner, Williamson County.

Williamson County leaders, including the sheriff and senior director of Emergency Services, signed their name to a letter last August stating that “there are serious security risks [in] using such devices.” In a statement to KXAN this week, the county said the push-to-talk radios do not interface with the Greater Austin/Travis County Regional Radio System or GATTRS.

“It will not be suitable for mission-critical communications. Currently, Williamson County Emergency Communications cannot monitor the push-to-talk devices, nor can other first responders,” Williamson County’s Chief Information Officer Richard Semple said.

But at least one other PSAP within the same jurisdiction as some of the district’s schools said it tested the technology successfully. The City of Austin said it tested to see if voice traffic could be heard between the push-to-talk radios and the Greater Austin/Travis County Regional Radio System, or GATTRS, and validated it could be done.

After the technology’s feasibility was validated, the district signed an interlocal agreement with the City of Austin. The city said it expects a final signature on the agreement this month.

“I think the goal is to improve our response. How quickly we get to things,” Azaiez said. “We are not going to sit here and say we are perfect. We still have a lot of things that we are working on.”