Hillsboro Police Detective Emory Souza is a familiar face around town.
He is one of seven school resource officers (SROs) who spend their days at Hillsboro schools. Souza is assigned to Poynter Middle School and Liberty High School. In the wake of the shooting and killing of a student at Reynolds High School in Troutdale June 10, Souza offered his thoughts on his job and the recent tragedy at Reynolds.
Hillsboro Tribune: Provide our readers with an overview of what you do as a school resource officer.
Souza: I have always thought there are three primary duties. First and foremost is safety for both students and staff in our school. Secondly is education. Most of us teach some sort of curriculum in school. It may be GREAT (Gang Resistance Education and Training), DARE, Date Safe and other law enforcement education. Thirdly, law enforcement. Yes, sometimes we have to arrest kids in our schools.
Hillsboro Tribune: Whats the idea behind having police officers in the schools?
Souza: I think one of the main purposes is to bridge the relationship between youth and police. We are police officers, mentors, social workers and advocates.
Hillsboro Tribune: Tell us about your time at Poynter and Liberty.
Souza: The thought process (with having the same officer at the middle school and high school) is, the kids from the feeder school will eventually transition into high school. We get to know the kids early on. I have been an SRO for six years. I got to see my kids from my first year as an SRO graduate from high school this year. Pretty fulfilling for me to see them graduate.
Hillsboro Tribune: What does a typical day entail?
Souza: Just like any other police officers day, we dont have any idea what one day or the next may bring. We may be teaching, meeting with parents, assisting school administrators, in safety assessment and care team meetings, or just interacting with the kids in school.
Hillsboro Tribune: Did you choose your assignment as an SRO?
Souza: I have chosen to be an SRO. Now that I have done this for six years, it does have its ups and downs. I have received a couple of letters from kids that have gotten into trouble. The letters are apology/thank you letters for helping them straighten out. Although those letters are pretty infrequent, they make the job well worth it!
Hillsboro Tribune: Describe some of the positive interactions you have with students.
Souza: I have assisted kids with their senior projects at Liberty High School, mentored kids who have run away from home, provided drug abuse/awareness counseling, discussed truancy. Just talking to kids about the choice they make today will possibly affect them or someone else for a long time. Most kids dont have the foresight to think long term. Helping them understand this will help them make better choices for themselves.
Hillsboro Tribune: What are some of the more difficult situations you deal with?
Souza: The parents! Some of the parents who have come into my schools and asked for help expect us to fix in 15 minutes what they have created over 15 years. It is just not that easy. We offer them a number of resources from all different agencies and sometimes they just dont follow through.
As far as the problems with drugs, alcohol or physical violence, my kids learn real quick that I have a zero tolerance for those behaviors. That also includes bullying. Social media has become a big problem as well. That is just another form of bullying and is also a zero tolerance incident on my scale.
Hillsboro Tribune: Turning to the recent school shooting at Reynolds High, can you share some of the discussion among the SROs about the situation?
Souza: Unlike Reynolds High School, where they have two SROs assigned, we have only one per school. So a solo response is very likely, as we will be there first. We have discussed the difficulties in radio traffic, where in some of our schools it is difficult to get out over the radio.
Hillsboro Tribune: What are you, as an SRO, trained to do in case you are a first responder in a situation like that?
Souza: I know what my first response is going to be, and that is to engage the shooter as fast as I can. Statistics have shown that for every minute an active shooting (is in progress), someone is injured or killed. If I can get the shooter engaged with me, he is not injuring anyone else.
I can say I am a father to two wonderful grownup kids and the grandfather to two beautiful granddaughters, a 6-year-old and a 3-month-old. I have 600 kids in my middle school and about 1,400 in my high school, and every one of those kids are MY kids.
I sometimes lay awake (usually on Sunday nights) thinking about who may want to come onto my campus and hurt my kids and how am I going to stop them. As I put my uniform on each morning and head to my schools, I tell myself, Not today; no one is going to come onto my campus and hurt my kids today!
How could I possibly face a parent of a child that was injured or killed in my schools and say I am sorry, I didnt stop them from hurting your child?
Hillsboro Tribune: Do you think having SROs present in the schools makes the schools safer?
Souza: There is no doubt in my mind that SROs keep schools safer. Not only just our presence, but the educational part of how to teach kids to be safer outside of school.
Hillsboro Tribune: What can you say to parents who do worry every morning when they send their children out the door and into the hands of school staff for the day?
Souza: I dont know of any other police department besides the Portland Police Bureau that has more SROs than we do. We as a department have committed to keeping our schools safe. We take active shooting extremely serious. We constantly have training in our schools involving the school district as well. At Liberty High School we hold table top drills with staff members so they know what their duties will be should a shooter come into the school. I can honestly say the training my department provides us SROs is second to none. We have a top-notch training staff and I am very proud of the training they have provided me.
Hillsboro Tribune: What do you consider the best part of your job?
Souza: This may sound silly, but when I have to arrest a kid or discipline them in any way, I usually tell them this: I dont get bonuses or toaster ovens for tickets I write; I dont get awards for the number of people I put in jail; my reward is seeing each kid walk down that aisle and get their high school diploma. These kids are our future leaders.