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Portland-area students have organized to oppose a cost-sharing agreement that would increase the number of officers in schools and shift more of the funding burden to Portland Public Schools. Image via NoSROs on YouTube.
Saundra Sorenson
Published: 11 June 2020

guadalupe guerrero introPolice officers will no longer be assigned to Portland-area public schools, following an announcement by Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero amid widespread protests against police brutality. Two other school districts that serve Portland quickly followed suit.

“The time is now,” PPS Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero stated in a tweet early June 4. “With new proposed investments in direct student supports (social workers, counselors, culturally-specific partnerships & more), I am discontinuing the regular presence of school resource officers. We need to re-examine our relationship with the PPB.”

The announcement came after six nights of large Black Lives Matter protests against police violence, spurred by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month. It is a decision the Minneapolis school board has also made, and which many other districts across the country are considering.

“I think the protests are effective in that they’re continuing to put the pressure on, to not let this issue go away,” Marcus Mundy, executive director of the Coalition of Communities of Color, told The Skanner.

“What I see (protesters) doing is keeping them focused on the right thing.

"By and large these protests have been peaceful. And one thing that is very, very heartening to me is that the young people have run with the ball. The leaders of these protests are young.”

A day before, Commissioner JoAnn Hardesty took to Facebook  to publicly reiterate her call to colleagues to remove school resources, in addition to the Gun Violence Reduction Team and transit police, which she called “the most racially unjust systems within the Portland Police Bureau.”

“I’m going to ask you, my colleagues, to look into your souls and join me in making sure we send a strong message to the community that we hear them and that we also believe that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect in our city,” Hardesty wrote. “And I want you to publicly affirm that you will work with me to remove the fear – the fear that police officers have of Black bodies, and the Black bodies have of police. We have an obligation as the leadership of the city to make sure the community knows that we are hearing them loud and clear and we’re not going to put together task forces and workgroups and all the other things we do to delay action. But we’re going to act because the community has told us over and over again that these are the changes that they want, and they want these changes now.”

The sentiment is hardly a new one: Last year, a group of Portland students pushed back against the PPS board's decision to enter into a cost-sharing arrangement with PPB that would cost the city just over $1.2 million over three years.

andrea valderrama introDavid Douglas School Board Chair Andrea Valderrama“I unequivocally affirm Black Lives Matter, and that anti-Black racism & White supremacy must be dismantled at all levels of the David Douglas School District,” David Douglas School Board Chair Andrea Valderrama said in a statement also issued June 4. “I also am answering the call from the Minneapolis School District and directing the DDSD to end any and all contracts with law enforcement agencies, and disband in-district policing and security departments that place police officers in schools. In turn, I urge other Oregon school districts — and especially Portland Public Schools, Parkrose School District, Reynolds School District, and Centennial School District to take this same action.”

Valderrama urged the city of Portland to reinvest funds allocated to the school resource officer program into retaining staff of color and alternative restorative justice practices within the district.

Soon after, Mayor Ted Wheeler confirmed that school resource officers will no longer be present in Parkrose and David Douglas schools.

In response, Portland Police Chief Jami Resch said SROs would be reassigned to the operations branch of the bureau.

“I want to reassure the public that if there is a public safety emergency at a school, PPB will respond--we just will not have dedicated resources specifically assigned to the schools," Resch said in a statement.

Defunding to Refund Elsewhere 

bullies in blue aclu 2017The ACLU white paper, “Bullies in Blue: Origins and Consequences of School Policing,” explores the beginnings of school policing in the United States.Advocates for police reform have praised the districts’ decision, pointing out the risk of criminalization of students--particularly students of color. In a 2017 report on school policing, the American Civil Liberties Union found that Black students were more than four times more likely than White students to be charged with a crime on campus.

“Students in policed schools are criminalized for behaviors that annoy adults but are a typical part of adolescent development,” the report read. “Additionally, research has shown that police officers are more likely to arrest juveniles than adults engaging in similar behaviors, and more likely to exercise authority over perceived disrespect by juveniles.”

The report also found that police were more likely to use force in interactions with youth than in interactions with adults.

Locally, in law enforcement both on and off campus, advocates of police reform cite the high number of social issues, rather than complaints of violence, that are currently fielded by a police bureau whose proposed 2020-2021 budget of $246.2 million accounts for 34% of the city’s general fund.

That’s a higher portion than the cities of Atlanta, Baltimore, Detroit, Los Angeles, and New York allocate for their police bureaus, as the Portland Committee on Community-Engaged Policing recently pointed out. A citizen oversight group that issues recommendations to Portland Police Bureau, PCCEP, issued recommendations Sunday night that the city “defund the police and refund the community”.

“PCCEP recommends that the PPB focus on addressing violent crime and that the city develop alternative services that can address the needs of the houseless and those suffering from mental health crises and drug and alcohol addiction,” the recommendations read. “This narrowing of the purview of the PPB will enable them to do what they are trained to do, at the same time as freeing up funds to address the tremendous social needs in Portland.”

PCCEP also recommended that Wheeler work with the state legislature to overturn qualified immunity for police officers.

“The doctrine of qualified immunity has long been an almost-insurmountable barrier to the victims of police brutality in achieving civil justice for the violations of their rights,” PCCEP stated. “Practices that common sense deems to be shockingly abusive and illegal have nevertheless been thrown out of court under this doctrine.”

Recalibrating 

The increasing role of social services in public safety is one that has been widely explored, with a 2017 study published in the American Sociological Review finding that community organizations have a measurable effect on crime rates.

“Drawing on a panel of 264 cities spanning more than 20 years, we estimate that every 10 additional organizations focusing on crime and community life in a city with 100,000 residents leads to a 9 percent reduction in the murder rate, a 6 percent reduction in the violent crime rate, and a 4 percent reduction in the property crime rate,” the report summarized.

In Portland, leaders of some of those organizations are wary of how such changes will be implemented so quickly. 

tony hopson sei introTony Hopson, Sr., president SEISelf Enhancement Inc. provides on-campus and wraparound social services at many Portland schools. Its President Tony Hopson Sr. called the decision to remove SROs from schools “kind of bittersweet.”

“Given the perceptions of police right now, it’s almost to be expected,” Hopson told The Skanner. “I know for a fact, having worked at the public school system, that oftentimes having police officers in the schools was one of the better ways to create that atmosphere of community policing. You got a chance to see a police officer in a different light, almost like a mentor counselor, unlike an authority figure coming in to punish you.”

He said he understood the school districts’ decision from a safety standpoint.

“I’m not sure what we’re replacing them with,” Hopson said.

“I think the mental health side is difficult. With kids that are challenged or in many cases, kids that may find themselves in a less-than-positive situation in the school, our coordinators step in and provide that mental and social support they need. Oftentimes we’re more familiar with the kid’s circumstances outside the school, so having that information can help keep them in school and moving along. But the issue that all of us are going to be challenged by is if or when a kid or situation escalates beyond the normal, where we can talk about it, then who steps in and does the heavy lifting at that point? 

“I’ve not heard anyone so far talk about what you're going to replace school police with -- who is that? What is that? What does that heavy lifting look like at that level? Say a kid walked in with a gun or has a knife, or there’s a major brawl where you’ve got kids going at each other. Who’s prepared to step into that particular situation? Now these situations don’t happen all that often. But there definitely needs to be a plan of assistance to keep kids safe. And I just haven’t heard what that is at this point.” 

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