Tigard, Tualatin review future of school resource officers
Local officials in Tigard and Tualatin are reevaluating the presence of police officers in schools, just months after Tigard voters approved additional money for the school resource officer program.
The suburban debate follows Portland Public Schools' announcement in June that they would discontinue having SROs in schools, amid a national debate about policing in general.
Over recent weeks, Tigard and Tualatin city leaders, along with representatives from the Tigard-Tualatin School District, have been discussing the fate of the officers following questions from the community and students.
"Each side agreed that a thoughtful review of the role, presence, and approach of SROs was needed, and the review should invite the help of a trained facilitator and community partners," a statement put out by the city of Tigard recently reads in part. "After the review, the cities of Tigard and Tualatin and TTSD will determine how SROs will be provided, and if so, what it will look like."
The review is expected to include hosting listening sessions with those who interact with the SROs, reviewing data on SROs including student interactions and disciplinary policies and trying to gain an understanding of "the lived experience of TTSD students and families."
"I have had two conversations, virtually, together with TTSD Superintendent Rieke-Smith and Tualatin City Manager Sherilyn Lombos over the last month, along with members of our police department staff and school district administration staff to outline what a facilitated set of conversations in community would look like about SROs' presence in our schools," Tigard City Manager Marty Wine wrote in an email.
She said based on a recommendation by the district, the city signed a contract with facilitator Tara Cooper, who already has begun interviewing people and collecting information on SROs in schools — a review that tentatively is expected to be complete by the end of October.
From there, Wine said both city councils and the school board will have a joint conversation on what was learned from the review.
"This effort to engage the entire Tigard community in a dialogue about the SRO program is critical. I personally believe our SROs have done fabulous work in Tigard schools," said Tigard Mayor Jason Snider. "However, it is also important that we balance this perspective with whatever we hear through this process from historically marginalized community members and students."
Tualatin City Manager Lombos said she's supportive of the review as well.
"I appreciate the School District's desire to be deliberative and have meaningful community dialogue about this issue and we look forward to being engaged," she said.
Lombos said the cities and the school district have agreed not to sign a contract or assign SROs to schools until both respective councils and the school board have had the discussion on their future after the review is completed.
Superintendent Sue Rieke-Smith said the issue of the future of SROs was first brought before her by Abdi Mohamoud, president of the Tigard High School Black Student. She later discussed the matter with Wine and Lombos.
"We all very carefully realize that we, because we are white and because we are leading organizations that are working to unravel racism -- systemic racism -- that we can't lead that process," said Rieke-Smith.
As a result, she said it was important to bring in outside facilitators who have done similar work in an effort to "listen deeply to our community" before forwarding the results to Tigard and Tualatin city councils as well as the Tigard-Tualatin School Board for a decision.
During a June conversation about Tualatin policing in general following the George Floyd killing by police officers in Minneapolis, Tualatin Police Chief Bill Steele noted that SROs do more than act as security guards who are around in case of an active shooter situation.
"We get a tremendous amount of child abuse reports, sexual abuse reports and those are the officers who deal with a good chunk of those cases," he said at the time.
Kelsey Anderson, a spokesperson for the Tigard Police Department, said there are currently two school resource officers set to go into the schools if they are invited back in the fall.
Tualatin normally has two assigned to the high school and one assigned to the middle school.
The city of Tigard pays about 81% of those officers' salaries, with the remaining 19% picked up by the school district. For the current fiscal year, the percentage for a Tualatin officer is 12.75%, paid for by the school district. However, the contract provides "funding to offset one half of the costs of the most senior SRO, including benefits and overtime, for nine months of the year," according to Don Hudson, Tualatin's finance director.
"While conversations continue between the district and the (City of Tigard), we are still preparing to bring on a third SRO under the newly-passed levy to keep our commitment to voters," Anderson said. "That person wouldn't start until the 2021-2022 school year. If there are changes that need to be made after this conversation about the future of the SRO program, we will determine what to do at that time."
Back in May, Tigard voters approved a property tax increase to bolster the number of police officers on active duty at any given time. That levy also paid for additional staffing for the SRO program.
The week after voters in Tigard passed that levy on May 19, Minneapolis resident George Floyd died as a Minneapolis police officer pressed him into the ground for nearly eight minutes with a knee on his neck, on May 25.
Street protests against police violence and in support of the Black community broke out in Minneapolis, Portland and other cities after Floyd's death, which was captured on video by a bystander, and have continued since then.
A story about suburban police budgets that appeared in the July 30, 2020, issue of this newspaper under the title "Policing beyond Portland" erroneously referenced an out-of-date budget document. Including the funding boost from the levy, Tigard approved a slight increase in police spending as part of its 2020-21 city budget.
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