Chief Don Johnson says a second officer is on his wish list to improve safety and security of students

Photo Credit: REVIEW PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - Officer Steve Filippelli is the only school resource officer to serve the thousands of kids in the Lake Oswego School District.Lake Grove Elementary teacher Melissa Griffiths says she’s seen the difference School Resource Officer Steve Filippelli can make in students’ lives.

She remembers an instance where one child was cruel to another while they were playing an interactive video game. The mean behavior spilled over into school, so the kids were required to participate in a problem-solving session in which the victim told the other student that name-calling online, whether during an interactive video game or on social media, is “cyberbullying.”

“That’s bullying,” Griffiths recalls the child saying. “Officer Filippelli said you can’t use those words.”

Understanding the concept of cyberbullying helped that child stand up against a bully, Griffiths says. But Filippelli has helped Lake Oswego kids in other ways, too. Depending on their ages, he’s also taught students about safe and unsafe touching, who safe grownups are, the dangers of drug abuse and weapons safety. He’s discussed shoplifting and theft, and held mock trials.

Griffiths said some of those topics are difficult for teachers and many other adults to broach, so Filippelli has become a safe grownup for children to depend on and talk to. And it seems, Griffiths says, as if Filippelli has gotten to know every child.

“He goes to every elementary school. I don’t know how he does it,” she says. “He tries to make personal connections. Kids feel invested in that, and so does the staff. It’s an amazing program.”

But it is also an understaffed program. Filippelli is the only school resource officer serving the Lake Oswego School District, and he hasn’t been able to visit schools full-time since April, missing out on the last couple months of school.

“My kids missed him tremendously,” Griffiths says.

Filippelli serves the district’s six elementary and two junior high schools, or about 4,380 students last year. No school resource officer regularly teaches at Lakeridge or Lake Oswego high schools, which had about 2,460 students last year.

At one time, the Lake Oswego Police Department assigned two officers to lead classes at all of the schools. But for the past seven years, the LOPD’s budget has only had room for one school resource officer. Filippelli now only goes to high schools on an as-needed basis — if an administrator asks him to speak with a student, for example, or to investigate a crime.

What’s more, Filippelli has had to drastically reduce the number of classes he can teach at the elementary schools and junior highs. Last school year, he only taught 380 classes because he had to leave before the school year ended to fill in for injured officers elsewhere.

“I’ve had to divert the school resource officer to the road to patrol,” says Lake Oswego Police Chief Don Johnson, “simply because we’re short-staffed on patrol, which is something I need to cover at all costs.”

Johnson says that if funding were available, he’d put a second school resource officer on his wish list because a friendly police presence in schools has a major impact on kids.

“I think it gives kids a role model,” he says. “I think it encourages a good relationship between the cops and the kids, and I think it gives the schools a feeling of safety and security. And I think it does, in fact, provide safety and security for our schools.”

Griffiths says the children would love another school resource officer.

“I know it’s on a wish list, but having another one would be great,” she says.

Creating the feeling of a safe place — and the physical presence of security officers — has become more important in a changing world where school shootings such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy have become more common. But dollars are scarce in the city budget, even for high-priority areas such as the police department.

In the 2014-15 budget, 35 percent of general fund revenues were allocated to the LOPD, and the police budget actually increased year-over-year from $10.5 million to $12.9 million. But much of that bump went to cover health care costs, step and cost-of-living pay raises, as well as a $615,000 computer-assisted dispatch system that replaced 20-year-old equipment. (LOPD partnered with Washington and Clackamas counties, and now the three local agencies share the same dispatch system, which is more efficient.)

Staffing, however — which includes 42 sworn officers — remained the same. Johnson said he has not asked for an increase out of respect for the other departments amid an economic downturn.

Revenue for police covers just the minimum rise in essential department operating costs, such as step increases.

“When times get tough, we focus on core services,” Johnson said. “We’re providing core public safety and police services, and you have to do those things really well. When people call 911, they have to get a response.”

That doesn’t make a school resource officer any less important to children, Johnson said, but he offered some perspective.

“There are areas in the state that don’t have a school resource officer and have never had a school resource officer,” he said. “It is a valuable, valuable program, but it comes with a cost.”

To keep the program and keep patrol properly staffed, classes taught by the school resource officer have dropped significantly in the last few years, from 601 in 2009-10 to 433 in 2012-13.

The budget attributes the drop to a need to “cover staff shortages in patrol.” That was the same issue in the 2013-14 school year, when Filippelli taught even fewer classes — 380 — than the year before.

For the upcoming school year, the program will take another hit: Filippelli may have to work in patrol until October. But things could change. Among the goals and initiatives cited in the city budget is a desire to “continue to develop and encourage our relationship with the high school staffs and students.”

And that’s just what the school resource officer does.

“I think sometimes we take for granted things that we know as adults,” Griffiths says. “But the school resource officer tries to teach those life lessons that sometimes we take for granted to kids.”

Like how to stand up to a bully instead of quietly enduring cruelty.

Contact Jillian Daley at 503-636-1281 ext. 109 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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