Woodburn school resource officer placed on administrative leave
A Woodburn Police School Resource Officer was placed on administrative leave Wednesday, and the program has been placed on hiatus, according to a press release from the Woodburn Police Department.
The action was taken after the police department was apprised of social media posts allegedly made by that officer.
The city of Woodburn posted an alert about the decision on its Facebook page, and Woodburn Police Chief Jim Ferraris did not name the officer in the statement. The SRO program has two officers assigned to it — Jorge Gaspar and Jake Stout.
Earlier in the day, a social media post began circulating with a petition to defund the SRO program in the Woodburn School District. The petition featured social media content allegedly made by Gaspar, which describes a previous employment position as a "TRAINED KILLER at Marine Corps Recruiting." That same post also said Gaspar lives in North Pole, Alaska.
Another graphic depicts a cartoon image of a vehicle running over people with a caption reading "Nobody Cares About Your Protest," also allegedly posted by Gaspar in 2015.
A search for Gaspar's Facebook page did not yield any results of the alleged posts.
The city's statement said Ferraris launched a personal investigation into the claims on June 9, and reassigned the officer from the SRO program, placing him on administrative leave.
"The information I read and saw is troubling and disturbing, and we are committed to a full and transparent investigation," Ferraris said. "The content of the complaint does not reflect the values of the Woodburn Police Department, nor do we condone any violence as suggested from the information in the complaint."
Woodburn city spokesman Tommy Moore noted that Ferraris said the personnel investigation would be completed as swiftly as possible to get to the truth, determine the facts and make decisions about this matter.
Since school is out of session and until these matters are fully addressed and resolved after consultation with Woodburn School District leadership, Ferraris has suspended the Woodburn Police SRO program pending a review of the program and an opportunity to seek input from the community and school district partners.
Ferraris' investigation comes just a day after the SRO program received high praise during the June 8 Woodburn City Council meeting.
The Intergovernmental Agreement for School Resource Officers was approved by the Woodburn City Council this that evening, and is awaiting approval by the Woodburn School District.
Moore noted that per the agreement, either party may withdraw at any time by "mutual consent of both parties or by one party notifying the other of their intent to discontinue participation no later than 180 days prior to the end of the fiscal year."
Some councilors had questions about the program in light of other cities, such as Portland, apparently taking steps to abandon programs with police officers in schools.
"The school resource officer program is an integral part of our department and our community," Ferraris told the council. "One of the key roles they play is really being the first line of reporting for child physical abuse and sex abuse cases; Department of Human Services child abuse hotline referals, things like that — working with families on issues.
"They've just done a fantastic service in our school system, and I think our community will agree with that. At least the support that I have heard throughout my five years here is that the community embraces the SRO program as well as the school district leadership."
Woodburn Mayor Eric Swenson, a former educator in the district, echoed the sentiment.
"Speaking not as the mayor but as a former middle and high-school principal, our school resource officers are invaluable," Swenson said. "And even when you contrast the national mood right now, with sentiments against the police officers, having school resource officers combats that — just their presence, their connection, the relationships they build…kids that are able to go to a safe place and talk about things happening at home and get them taken care of. You can't put a price on that."
According to Woodburn City Administrator Scott Derickson, beyond relationship building, school resource officers provided an important security element for the district.
"Not only is it good for the officers to interact with young people, I also think it's been healthy for young people to interact with our police officers," Derickson said.
He also pointed out that concerns that emerge when school shootings make the national news heighten the SRO program's appeal.
"A police officer on scene is better than a police officer en route," Derickson said.
The initial response to the city's Facebook post on the issue was mixed.
Ariel Townsend commented, "They are needed!!! Stop the knee jerk reactions! Why take away mostly POSITIVE interactions with police, prior to adulthood where they can be potentially negative (i.e. getting a ticket, facing consequences for breaking the law, etc). They need to trust the police prior to going out into the world and high school is the perfect place."
Isaac Yoder countered, "State employees opening posting disturbing rhetoric on their social media shouldn't require 'fact finding'. We found the facts. It's your responsibility to act. A self-proclaimed "trained killer" shouldn't be masquerading around town disguised as a 'peace' officer in any capacity; not in our schools, not on our streets, not even working At a desk job. We want to talk about government overspending? Let's not waste any more tax dollars on this guy."
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