Oregon City Police Department's THIN BLUE LINE between kids and drugs
During a recent ride-along, I was lucky to take a photograph of both Steve Heryford and David Plummer, Oregon City Police Department's two school resource officers.
Ever since OCPD went from one to two school resource officers last month, they rarely get a break from their efforts to keep drugs out of kids' hands and give them positive interactions with cops. They typically split off between Oregon City High School and another random school in the district, cruising the parking lots "just to make sure everyone's behaving" and then greeting students as they enter the main doors of the schools.
When the first bell rings, they're on the lookout in the hallways for stragglers, who usually will dart into classes as soon as they see a police uniform. By this time, they've probably received their first call from one of OCSD's dozen schools administrators who have the officers' cell phone numbers on speed dial so they don't have to go through 911 dispatch.
OCSD's No. 1 call is for suspected drug use by youth, with fights between students the second-most common. A 17-year-old OCHS student recently was expelled for dealing LSD after Plummer searched the student's phone, but marijuana more frequently falls into the hands of kids. According to anonymous surveys conducted by the Oregon Health Authority, 22.4 percent of Clackamas County 11th-graders and 7.7 percent of eighth-graders reported using marijuana in the month prior to the 2015 survey, up from 20.5 percent of 11th-graders and 7.6 percent of eighth-graders in 2013 (the 2017 survey currently is being conducted).
"With it being legalized for people 21 and over, lots of kids seem to be trying it," Plummer said. "Especially with the depressed kids, one of the common factors is that they're using marijuana. It's out of control."
The newest officer on the school-resource team, taking on the role just last month, Plummer is aided in his efforts by his experience as part of the Clackamas County Inter-agency Task Force, a group effort by local and federal law-enforcement officials to reduce illegal drugs and related crimes. He knows the locations of all the local drug houses by heart, and takes special care to check on those that are near schools as he makes his rounds between OCSD's various educational buildings.
In the past few weeks, Plummer saw a man parked in front of a known drug house near Gardiner Middle School. Plummer stopped to talk with the man and ended up arresting him after Plummer discovered he had an outstanding warrant.
"They'll soon know that every time they come to one of these houses, they're going to be stopped by a police officer, so hopefully they'll stop coming," Plummer said.
Between 3 and 5 p.m., the school resource officers end their shift by writing reports and patroling spots frequently used by teenagers to do drugs, places like "The Cross" at the Creed/Promontory intersection at the top of Waterboard Park.
Having been in the role for several years, Heryford noted that school resource officers focus on prevention, rather than arrests. Even the new OCPD drug-sniffing dog, Grendel, is primarily used to discourage students from bringing drugs to school, because they now know that Grendel will make it more likely that they will be caught.
School resource officers provide guidance on ethical issues in informal settings, through individual counseling and mentoring to students. During the drug unit of all freshman health classes, they lead a discussion on the criminal justice system, encouraging student participation to help build an understanding of law enforcement's role in the community.
"We've gotten a lot of tips from kids who approach us after class to talk with us one-on-one," Heryford said.
Growing up in Eastern Oregon, Heryford, 41, and Plummer, 46, didn't see youths using drugs until they were teenagers, so they have been surprised by how young kids are exposed to drugs in Oregon City.
"Every sixth-grader has an iPhone, so we need to start the anti-drug education in grade school," Heryford said. "Our job isn't necessarily to arrest every kid who does something wrong."
Plummer said that kids who seem to be having problems with drugs can benefit from sitting down with their sports coach and a police officer to discuss the potential consequences of student behavior and getting kicked off of the team.
Toni Perkins, OCHS's campus supervisor for the past 11 years, said it was more of a process to get problem kids to a juvenile probation officer during her first few years on the job, prior to Heryford taking on the role of the first school resource officer. Thanks to Perkins knowing all of the students, the school resource officers have, on multiple occasions, arrested three kids for drug dealing in one day.
"Having them here makes my job so much easier," Perkins said.
More often, the school resource officers are a day-to-day positive presence in the school hallways. Checking in at the front desk recently at OCHS, Plummer saw five student workers tasked with answering the questions of the occasional school visitor.
"You're making fun of me," Plummer told them after he walked in, and they giggled.
One of them responded, "No, we were just reading your name tag: Officer Plummer."
"I knew you were making fun of me," Plummer said, and they nodded.
Then Plummer told them about OCPD Officer Alan Farmer, whose name tag says "A. Farmer."
"He has to tell everyone that he's a police officer, not a farmer," Plummer said, and at this point the students' giggles had turned into laughter.
Plummer has wanted to become a school resource officer since joining OCPD from the Gladstone Police Department in 2011, but his son, who is now 20, said that Plummer couldn't take on the role until after his son graduated from OCHS.
"No way, dad," Plummer quotes his son as saying.
Having now taken the job, Plummer said that school resource officers are on the front lines of building better relationships between young people and police.
He said, "In today's world, with the media and everything that's going on right now, police officers are painted as racists and bad guys, so our goal is to build rapport with kids so that they go home and say, 'Oh, I know a police officer, and he's really nice.'"
In addition to each officer's handgun, every OCPD patrol car has an assault rifle with a red dot for targeting so that officers are ready for an active shooter. Plummer said that the most common question he gets is why he has a gun.
"I usually just say it's to keep me safe, and I leave it at that," he said. "In the rare case that they ask me a follow-up question like, 'Why does it keep you safe,' I say that it's to protect myself and other people if there's a bud guy who has a gun."