Lawmakers propose bills aimed at reimbursing peace officers for student loans

Bills also aimed at bringing in new recruits

By Sarah Acosta - Reporter, Joe Herrera - Photojournalist

SAN ANTONIO - UPDATE: Both House Bill 14 and Senate Bill 16 have been approved in the state House and Senate respectively. 

(Previously)

If you become a peace officer in Texas, part of your student debt could be paid for if either of two bills filed by Texas lawmakers becomes law.

Lawmakers are trying to help with what they call a shortage of officers statewide.

Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar agrees that there is an officer shortage, not just in the state but across the United States.

“Here, as of late, in law enforcement, every agency in the country is having a hard time recruiting good applicants,” Salazar said.

Fewer recruits in Texas is why state lawmakers Rep. Lynn Stucky and Sen. Kelly Hancock have filed House Bill 14 and Senate Bill 16, which would help pay off student loans of new peace officers.

Hancock called the Senate bill "an important recruitment tool for a tough and too-often thankless job."

Both bills would set up a student loan repayment program for new peace officers, paying off debt of anywhere between $20,000 and $30,000 for an officer who stays on the force for a certain amount of time.

Salazar said the legislation could help locally. He said the number of people wanting to become deputies has been lower than in recent years.

The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office currently has 50 openings for law enforcement professionals. Last weekend, the agency held a career fair to attract more recruits for law enforcement and detention positions.

Salazar said he believes the nationwide officer shortage is a generational issue. 

“Right now, a lot of money is being spent on teaching law enforcement agencies how to attract the millennial generation,” Salazar said.

He said that, currently, BSCO has a program that reimburses working deputies who are taking classes to a certain extent. To qualify, the student must be a full-time deputy while taking classes to get partial reimbursement.

“A better-educated deputy is a more job-satisfied deputy,” Salazar said.

The San Antonio Police Department said it is currently not feeling this same shortage of officers, as its number of recruits has increased over the past three years.

The following figures are the total number of appointed cadets for the past three years:

2017: 178 cadets

2018: 233 cadets

2019: 250 cadets

SAPD officials said they could not comment on a specific bill but said that, generally speaking, they support any legislation that encourages individuals to pursue a career in law enforcement.

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