Forest Grove agrees to reinstate police officer in school
The Forest Grove City Council voted unanimously this month to restart an agreement between the city and the Forest Grove School District to provide a school resource.
In summer 2021, the school board voted not to renew its contract with the Forest Grove Police Department for an officer.
"Though the school district and the police department have had a very longstanding relationship, the school resource officer program was deactivated by the Forest Grove school board," Police Chief Henry Reimann said during the July 11 council meeting. "Since that, the school district and city staff have worked to update the school resource officer program."
According to a presentation at a school board meeting this May, the district of nearly 6,000 students surveyed 700 students for their thoughts about school resource officers, and about eight in 10 said they thought a school resource officer is important to have on campus. According to the same presentation, when the district did employ a school resource officer, the Forest Grove Police Department still received about 300 calls related to the Forest Grove School District each year — 338 calls in 2018-19, 331 calls in 2019-20 and 293 calls in 2020-21 — and then this year, without a school resource officer, there were 577 calls to the police department from the start of the school year until Feb. 14, 2022, roughly two-thirds through the school year, and at least 20 different officers have responded to those calls.
According to the presentation, 15% of the calls for service this school year were for suspicious behavior, traffic or an alarm, while 45% were for "extra patrol," which Neil Armstrong Middle School principal Julianna Kelly described as trespassing, a runaway student or a threat of violence.
Under the new agreement, Reimann said the school resource officer — who has yet to be selected — will wear a casual uniform instead of a formal police uniform.
The agreement also calls for a host of additional training each year — a nationally recognized training course for school officers, eight hours of diversity training, three hours of disability training, 16 hours of safety care training, four hours of trauma-informed practice training, eight hours of trauma-informed care training, one hour of school district home visit training, and sexual abuse and misconduct training.
The contract is for nine months and will pay the police department $57,876.
The agreement says incidents involving public order offenses, including disorderly conduct, profanity, and fighting that do not involve serious physical injury or a weapon, should be considered school discipline issues to be handled by school officials rather than criminal law issues warranting formal law enforcement intervention. However, school resource officers may participate in the questioning of a student about conduct that could result in criminal charges.
While all of the City Council members favored restarting the agreement, Councilor Mariana Valenzuela said city officials should take to heart the lesson from the school board dropping the contract last year.
"The presence of police is not welcoming to many students and their parents. When we think about the school resource officer, we think about somebody who will be approachable someone that you can go to for help, but not somebody who is going to be working to get the kids in trouble," City Councilor Mariana Valenzuela said. "This is not something that many Latino young men are going to welcome. I hope this time, we do a lot better."
Both Mayor Pete Truax and Councilor Kristy Kottkey said the responsibilities seem too large for one officer, so Forest Grove could consider funding a second school resource officer in the future.
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.