Don’t let the uniform fool you. Even though an officer may not appear to be what you’d consider “the real thing,” chances are he or she holds just as much power as those who work for a more traditional agency.
Chief Charles Carnes, with the Northside Independent School District’s police department, said his officers are "just like SAPD or any other municipality or county (or) DPS."
Carnes said people often mistake his officers for school security guards, but all 96 are actually state-commissioned officers, capable of fighting crime like any other person in blue.
"They can enforce any laws, any Texas law,” Carnes said. “But our policy restricts that because we want them to stay with the interests of Northside school district."
Still, Carnes said if his officers witness a crime off-campus, they could be compelled to act.
In December, an officer with the University of the Incarnate Word shot and killed Robert Cameron Redus, 23. Although a student, Redus was off campus at the time.
Both UIW and Alamo Heights police investigators said the officer stopped Redus after witnessing him speeding and driving erratically on Broadway, then shot him when he put up a fight.
Charles Gonzalez, a former U. S. representative who serves as Senior Vice President of Public Engagement for VIA Metropolitan Transit, said transit officers are usually not in the business of making traffic stops.
But he said they do have the power to do that and more. "If they observe an offense taking place, it may not be VIA-related, it may not be on VIA property, it may not on one of our buses, but that's part of their duty,” Gonzalez said.
Sgt. Javier Salazar with the San Antonio Police Department said being a law enforcement officer, regardless of the agency, is an around-the-clock job.
Park police officers, who are actually part of SAPD, are often underestimated, too, Salazar said.
"At the end of the day, we wear many different uniforms, many different badges, but many of us are state-certified peace officers,” he said.
With so many different agencies around, it may be difficult to tell when one is not legitimate.
Salazar said if an officer attempts to stop you and you have doubts, there are ways to protect yourself.
The first thing you should do, he said, is slow down and signal to the officer that you actually do plan to stop.
“Activate your emergency, your hazard lights, indicate to the officer by hand signal,” Salazar said.
"You can then proceed at a slow pace to a more populated area, a safer area,” he said, “to where you can actually ensure that the person pulling you over is a real police officer."