Forest Grove says 'no' to in-school officer
The Forest Grove School District has voted to discontinue their contract with the Forest Grove Police Department, meaning Forest Grove public schools will not have a full-time school resource officer this fall and beyond.
At a school board meeting June 28, the contract was voted on, and board members opted not to approve it.
However, the police department will assign a detective as a part-time liaison to the school district for the 2021-22 school year, and the Forest Grove Police Department will continue to work with the school district, according to officials.
"We have a strong relationship with the city and with the police department," Forest Grove School District Superintendent Dave Parker said. "We have worked closely with both entities and look forward to continuing the partnership this year and into the future. We have worked collaboratively to create safe environments at our school buildings and will continue to prioritize safety for our students and staff."
The district says it will continue to collect data on incidents where the liaison was needed and contacted. That data will be presented to the school board in spring 2022, at which time the board will review and discuss the situation again.
Officials say the Forest Grove Police Department will provide additional support to the school district in some form, and they may still team up on classroom education.
Forest Grove resident Clare Collins, while concerned for the well-being of students in the district, doesn't believe the answer lies with an SRO. She believes there are more effective solutions available to the district.
"I would love it if we could come together as a community," Collins said, "and start thinking outside the box for solutions that could make our schools less violent without the use of law enforcement."
Collins is a member of the group Fighting for Change, which has been working for the bulk of this year to better understand the relationship of the police within the school system. As a part of their research, the group met with high school staff who worked with the school resource officer, conducted a student survey on their feelings about the in-school officer, looked at district-specific statistics on the arrests in which the school resource officer was involved, and conducted their own research on the impacts of having an resource officer at schools nationwide.
Collins said the group came to the conclusion, based on studies, stories, testimony and statistics, that armed police officers have no place in public schools.
Similar discussions have taken place in communities across the United States, particularly since George Floyd was killed by a former Minneapolis police officer — who was convicted of murder this spring — last year.
The Chicago Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights also says school resource officers are not effective in improving school safety, discipline or climate. According to the committee, what really works is relationship building, restorative justice, mental health services, and social-emotional development. The Justice Policy Institute, American Civil Liberties Union and Leadership for Educational Equity concur.
Collins also has concerns about the Forest Grove Police Department in particular.
Two Forest Grove police officers have been indicted within the past year — one of them for disturbing a family in the middle of the night last October, allegedly challenging them to fight him because they were flying a "Black Lives Matter" flag; and the other for reportedly giving that off-duty officer, Steven Teets, a ride home instead of taking him to jail after the family called 9-1-1. Teets was also involved in a fatal encounter earlier that month, in which an intoxicated man went into cardiac arrest and died after Teets used a Taser stun gun on him during a physical struggle.
"The Forest Grove police have had a number of concerning incidents in the past year that undermine their credibility," Collins said. "I do not believe a police department that has broken the trust of the community on many occasions can be trusted as a presence in schools."
As an alternative to SROs, Collins believes in a more proactive and empathetic approach, with the idea of attacking a potential problem at its root opposed to reacting to it after-the-fact.
"Many schools have no SRO and instead have counselors, hall monitors, and/or social workers," she said. "Hall monitors can do similar things to SROs but are not armed and do not have the power to arrest students. Counselors and social workers are helpful, because they can work to get to the root issues of student misbehavior instead of enforcing a punishment and potentially humiliating a student, as many SROs have done."
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.