Pupils respond to proposed police, public school contract
The proposed contract between Portland Public Schools and the Portland Police Bureau received a mixed reception at a student-run leadership conference — with some attendees calling for more patrols and others saying they don't want officers setting foot on campus.
But there's one thing many students seem to agree on: They want administrators to communicate more information at a quicker pace when police are called into the classroom.
"We have someone walking around the building in a full police uniform, and we don't know why they're there," said Francesca Milhizer, a Cleveland High School junior. "We don't know if it's a drill or not."
"I think we need more (officers), but with that comes a responsibility," she added. Other students noted that they're learning about incidents from social media or their parents.
Milhizer and her peers from across the district gathered for a student Leadership Summit at Cleveland High School, 3400 SE 26th Ave., on Saturday, Dec. 1.
PPB's School Resource Officers — commonly called SROs — have been operating in Portland free of charge and in the neighboring Parkrose and David Douglas school districts for about 20 years.
On paper, the Youth Services Division has 12 armed officers assigned to the unit, each working four ten-hour days. Portland has nine officers, with one SRO assigned to each high school cluster who is also responsible for the elementary and middle schools in that group.
But chronic understaffing means the Bureau takes away three of those bodies each week to work regular patrol. The end result is there are never SROs available in Portland on Mondays, and the Bureau can call them away when other emergencies arise.
"We want to make sure those officers have the right ability, the right temperament and the best training, so we can make sure they are a part of making sure you are successful," Capt. Tashia Hager, who oversees the division, told students. "They're there for your safety too."
The intergovernmental agreement, scheduled to go before the Portland school board for a vote on Dec. 11, is intended to protect SROs from future budget cuts and borrowing — at a cost of $364,000 this fiscal year and $1.2 million in 2019-2020. It must also be approved by the city council.
Approval would certainly make Wilson High School junior Thomas Berg happy.
Berg praised Wilson's last SRO, Grant Shirahama, who died unexpectedly of a heart attack while hiking on Mt. Hood on Aug. 27. No replacement has been assigned since.
"He was always walking around Wilson smiling. People weren't scared of him, people came up to talk to him," said Berg, who created a club called Students of Color and Action Association at his school several years ago.
Students have been kicking in mirrors and vandalizing bathrooms, Berg says, and pulled the fire alarm as a prank twice this month. He said another student brought a knife and a BB gun to school last week.
Franklin High School was placed into lockdown after officers responded to reports of gunfire and a vehicle crashing into a fence during a basketball game around 9 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 30. One person was detained.
"I don't really know how I'm going to feel safe if we have no SRO," Berg said.
Other aren't convinced.
Grant High senior Amelia Ernst says SROs disproportionately target students of color or those with disabilities.
"School referrals to the criminal justice system should be the last resort," she said. "There shouldn't be SROs in schools."
According to PPB, SROs made 13 arrests last school year. Teachers and administrators called police more than 5,000 times, but only about 500 calls were classified as a crime. Other cases were referred to local restorative justice programs.
Portland Tribune reporter Shasta Kearns Moore contributed to this article.
Have your say:
The Portland Public Schools board invites more input from students during a second engagement session on Thursday, Dec. 6 from 3 to 5 p.m. in the boardroom at the district's headquarters, 501 N. Dixon Street.