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Community input, ideas sought on school resource officers, police program cuts

PMG FILE PHOTO - The city of Gresham is seeking input on public safety. With growing concerns the past few weeks around public safety, city of Gresham leadership has committed to working alongside community members and organizations to find solutions moving forward.

The headlines were sweeping cuts of popular programs within the Gresham Police Department due to a staffing shortage, and a group of Gresham High School students who gathered to voice concerns about how their school resource officer has treated students of color.

A city of Gresham statement called community concerns "valid" and that they are "heard by your city leadership."

"Whether you are a student, a business owner, or just visiting, we want everyone to feel safe and supported in Gresham," said City Manager Nina Vetter. "While we are actively working to address each of the challenges that face our community, we acknowledge that this work often occurs behind the scenes and may be difficult for our residents to see."

Last month Gresham announced various programs will be cut due to the Police Department being down 10% of sworn-officers, 12 positions, after retirements, departures, and officers stepping away from law enforcement all together.

Those personnel woes have led to the cutting of the Traffic Unit, Neighborhood Enforcement Team (NET) and local participation in the regional Transit Division. The cuts are not because of slashes to the budget or attempts to "defund the police."

The officers are being reassigned to patrol and investigations to help deal with the historic levels of violence taking place in East Multnomah County. As of Thursday, Oct. 21, there have been 140 shootings in Gresham.

On Thursday evening, Nov. 4, a group of about a dozen Gresham High youths from the newly formed Students Against Oppression gathered outside the district office as the Gresham-Barlow school board met for a work session.

"Our voices have continuously been silenced, and we have addressed that our school is not a safe place for students of color, numerous times, with multiple administrations and people in charge,"said Stasia, a Gresham junior, to Oregon Public Broadcasting, a Pamplin Media Group news partner.

The students told OPB they have felt targeted, harassed, intimidated, discriminated against and profiled by the school resource officer. Their concerns touched on an incident in 2019 that sparked a massive protest outside the police department and conversations with then-Chief Robin Sells.

On April 15, 2019, two white Gresham Police officers took Kamelya Jack, a 17-year-old student, to the ground, handcuffed her and held her until her parents picked her up. At the time students said the use of force was unnecessary against Jack, who was described as a petite 5-foot-3.

The school resource officer involved in that incident continues to be assigned to the district.

In an email to OPB, Lt. John Rasmussen, with the Gresham Police Department, described the student group's claims as "libelous and potentially slanderous attempts to defame the school resource officer." The department also stated several students attended the protest in support of SROs being in schools.

The city is in communication with the Gresham School District about the concerns around school resource officers. Leadership also wants to hear from the community about concerns and ideas for public safety moving forward. Contact Mayor Travis Stovall and the City Council online at greshamoregon.gov/Mayor-and-Council/ or reach out to the city via social media @cityofgresham

In the coming weeks there will also be a public safety survey for community members to fill out.


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