PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — In June 2020, superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero made the decision to remove officers from Portland high schools. Soon after Guerrero’s decision Mayor Ted Wheeler eliminated the Portland Police Bureau’s Youth Services Division, which consisted of school resources officers.
In a public safety address on Wednesday, Wheeler and Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell said they are considering reinstating school resources officers.
In an interview on Tuesday with a PPS representative, KOIN asked if there had been any recent talk among district leaders about bringing SROs back to campuses. The representative said they didn’t know the answer to that question.
However, the answer was revealed Wednesday when Chief Lovell was asked about it at a press conference.
“I have had some discussions with PPS around what we can do to keep children safe in the short term, but there’s also probably longer-term conversations that have just started around what a return to schools might look like,” said Lovell.
KOIN 6 News spoke with Aaron Schmautz who lead PPB’s Youth Services Division from August 2019 until it was dissolved.
“Immediately when I began working in that unit I was blown away by the professionalism, just how well that organization ran. In fact, in 2019 the Youth Services Division for Portland Police Bureau was given the national model agency award by NASRO which is a kind of certifying body for school resources officers,” Schmautz said.
Schmautz, now the president of the Portland Police Association, recalled what it felt like when he learned the program was cut.
“When it was disbanded it was heart-rendering and it was mostly heart-rendering to see these officers who have been doing this amazing work, and believed so much in it, just kind of tossed aside and it just really was a very difficult moment,” Schmautz said.
He explained the officers assigned to schools were able to help keep teenagers who committed low-level crimes from getting tied up in the criminal justice system or ending up in jail.
“Having SROs who have individual relationships, they can help navigate those kinds of events either through, saying hey, instead of writing a police report about this, let’s bring you to a restorative justice counselor. Or hey, let’s deal with this on the school level because this is really more of a school problem. Or maybe go interact with the parents,” Schmautz said.
Byronie McMahon, who serves as the student representative on the PPS Board of Education told KOIN 6 News most students don’t want officers back on campus.
“We can just look back to why students advocated to take them out of the building. Ultimately I think there is this community distrust unfortunately, and that’s certainly rooted in history and what’s happened previously,” McMahon said.
McMahon, who is a senior at Cleveland High School believes the district should listen to the voices off all students and make a decision based on what the majority want.
“If that’s more security measures then great, but if that’s more mental health resources and partnerships with the community then I think we need to be open to looking at a multitude of solutions that will address different problems,” said McMahon.
She said in the coming days she will spend more time surveying students on other campuses and while she hasn’t heard directly from students who support SROs she’s received emails from parents who say their children feel safer with a police on campus.
In 2020 Mayor Wheeler said he would redirect $1 million a year from the PPB budget to a community designed program to support Black children.
KOIN 6 News asked the mayor’s office where the money has gone, but they did not provide an answer.