By Philip Jankowski
Killeen Daily Herald
The city of Killeen is considering hiring a child safety coordinator to create a network of volunteers to protect students between home and school.
The possible position comes about a year after two schoolchildren were abducted and sexually assaulted, in separate incidents last fall, as they walked to bus stops in Killeen.
The crimes caused a near panic for local parents as law enforcement officers searched feverishly for a suspect.
In January, police arrested Raul Aragonez Jr., charging him with continuous sexual abuse of a child and aggravated kidnapping. He remains in the Bell County Jail, with bail set at more than $2 million. No trial date has been set.
Even with the arrest of a suspect, officials said the city needs to increase safety for students at the Killeen Independent School District, and a dedicated safety coordinator is a place to start.
"We hope to get this off the ground and get this going. It is needed," said Killeen Mayor Tim Hancock. "It's already a proven fact that something needs to be done."
The proposed safety coordinator, with a salary around $35,000 annually, would work for the Killeen Police Department, said Carroll Smith, spokeswoman for the department.
City officials started discussing ways to improve student safety after an 11-year-old girl was abducted in October 2010 on her way to a bus stop. She was taken to a secluded area, assaulted and then released. When a similar incident happened to a 9-year-old girl in December 2010, safety efforts kicked into high gear.
"When the abductions happened, what we realized is that we need to make sure we were all working together to make sure all kids are safe going to and from school," said Leslie Gilmore, spokeswoman for the Killeen school district.
Spearheading the safety effort was former Killeen council member JoAnne Purser who brought together school, city and police officials to discuss the matter.
Through research, the group identified a Los Angeles-based program called Kid Watch, which created an army of volunteers to assist schoolchildren in dangerous neighborhoods. The adult volunteers became the eyes and ears of the police department.
Local officials have estimated that they would need more than 2,000 volunteers to keep watch on the 1,400 bus stops the Killeen district uses each school day, and the proposed safety coordinator would serve as the liaison between the volunteer force and the various agencies.
But that task would not be the coordinator's sole responsibility. Smith said the position's duties also would include assisting the crime prevention coordinator on education programs.
Contact Philip Jankowski at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7553. Follow him on Twitter at KDHcrime.