The city of Gresham is “pausing” its school resource program, citing staffing shortages. The police department contracts with school districts to provide officers in schools.
Gresham-Barlow, Reynolds, and Centennial — east Multnomah County school districts with a total of more than 28,000 students — will be affected by the decision to pause the officer program.
In a press release shared Tuesday, city officials said the police department has 19 officer vacancies. They are re-assigning school resource officers to help fill the gap.
“Knowing it takes upwards of 18 months to onboard a new officer, we need to be realistic about our ability to fulfill our contracts with our school partners,” said Gresham Police Department Chief Travis Gullberg. “Recruiting and retaining officers is a top priority, and we hope to announce the return of the SRO program as soon as staffing allows.”
According to the release, the Gresham City Council used $5.2 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds from the American Rescue Plan to recruit more officers, offer hiring bonuses, and create a program to handle non-emergency calls. Next month, the City Council will consider a plan that would give the police department an additional $6 million.
Officials from Gresham-Barlow and Reynolds school districts said they are “disappointed” with the news, but understand the staffing challenges.
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Representatives from both districts said in statements that they are looking for other options in the interim.
“We are contacting other law enforcement agencies,” Gresham-Barlow Communications and Community Relations Director Athena Vadnais said in an email to OPB.
“We heard this today,” Reynolds Assistant Director of Public Relations & Partnerships Steven Padilla said in a message to OPB. “We are currently negotiating with other safety agencies and organizations to provide resources and/or training to ensure continued safety for the upcoming school year.”
Both school districts recently sought feedback on their school resource officer programs. After students shared negative experiences with the SRO at Gresham High School and called for the officer’s removal last year, Superintendent James Hiu called for a review of the program. The district hired Buffalo Cloud Consulting to collect feedback and prepare a report with recommendations for the district. The district’s communications director said that work is complete.
“The district will share the findings with the board and the community this fall,” Vadnais said.
Andre Miller, the parent of one of the students who spoke out against the SRO program, said some students weren’t engaged in the feedback process. Miller said he remains concerned about officers in the school and their impact on students of color, and looks forward to continued engaging with the school and broader community.
“I was disappointed in the lack of transparency and accountability with the issues that were raised and how administration did not stand up to protect students from harm,” Miller said in an email to OPB. “We as a community can work towards being proactive and engage with students and address root causes that lead to behavioral or community violence.”
The school district was contracted to pay $218,204 for two school resource officers (including their benefits) for the fiscal year that ended June 30. There is no new agreement in place at this time.
In Reynolds, 569 people, the majority of them students, responded to a survey last fall about SROs. Reynolds students reported being generally supportive of the SRO program and feeling schools are safe. The majority of respondents, mostly 7th, 8th, and 9th graders, said there was no SRO or they didn’t know if there was one at their school.
Reynolds contracts with the city of Gresham to provide SRO services at HB Lee Middle School and with the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office for services at Reynolds Middle School, Walt Morey Middle School and Reynolds High School.
The district presented the results of the survey to the school board before the board voted and approved entering into negotiations with the Sheriff’s Office. In that presentation, the district reported the cost for the City of Gresham school resource officer as $109,102. Reynolds reported the cost for 4 Multnomah County Sheriffs at $479,556. The district’s budget for school resource officers was $600,500 for the 2021-2022 school year.
Officials from the Centennial School District were unavailable to respond to a request for comment.