By Philip Jankowski
Killeen Daily Herald
In response to two child abductions that shocked the Killeen area late last year, officials from several police departments and the Killeen school district are in the process of researching programs to help improve safety for students en route to bus stops.
The effort, spearheaded by the Killeen City Council, now includes Killeen Independent School District and all police departments that fall under the district's map. Those include Killeen, Nolanville, Harker Heights and Fort Hood.
Efforts from the KISD and police departments could be announced as early as this week, though sources said efforts mostly remain preliminary.
Killeen City Councilwoman JoAnn Purser said the likely program would involve a massive volunteer effort. Police and school officials would work to recruit about 2,500 volunteers to watch the more than 1,400 bus stops the district's buses service every school day.
"We would have this volunteer force to aid the city, KISD and law enforcement," Purser said.
Purser said the program would resemble Kid Watch, a program created by the Los Angeles Police Department, KISD spokeswoman Leslie Gilmore said. The LAPD created Kid Watch in 1995 in order to reduce juvenile crime.
During research, the department found that many students refused to attend school because of street safety. In response, the department entrusted an army of volunteers to act as the eyes and ears of the department, as stated on the LAPD's website.
"We're working on gathering information and putting together some ideas about what the program is going to look like," Gilmore said.
Officials have been meeting since November to research possible programs, Purser said. The move came after the Killeen City Council made moves to be more proactive toward student safety.
The effort came after the abduction of an 11-year-old girl on the way to her bus stop in October. The girl was assaulted and then freed. A similar abduction occurred in December, after officials had already begun research.
Sgt. Raul Aragonez Jr., 29, of the 1st Cavalry Division's Alpha Battery, 2nd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team was eventually arrested in connection to the December abduction of a 9-year-old girl. Police believe Aragonez was also responsible for the October abduction. Aragonez remains in Bell County Jail. He has been charged with aggravated sexual assault in connection to the December abduction.
Purser cited the diligent police work of area police departments during the tense time leading up to Aragonez' arrest. Undercover officers roamed the streets during times that children were most at risk, on their ways to and from bus stops.
The volunteer program would be similar in that volunteers would be out en force during those times. From some volunteers, it may just mean a slight alteration to their daily routine.
"I think there are people in neighborhoods that can say 'I can have my coffee in front of the house just as easy in the back,'" Purser said.
All volunteers would undergo background checks. Once approved, they would be assigned specific bus stops to monitor each morning or afternoon.
"These little residents, these citizens, we owe them safety. That's what we are tasked to as a council. We have to find a solution," Purser said.
Contact Philip Jankowski at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7553. Follow him on Twitter at KDHcrime.