Under Pressure, Portland Will Eliminate School Resource Officer Program

By Elizabeth Miller (OPB)
June 4, 2020 6:07 p.m.

UPDATE (2:16 p.m. PT) — School resource officers from the Portland Police Bureau will no longer be on campus in three city school districts, a move activists have demanded for years.

Portland Public Schools Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero announced via Twitter Thursday morning that he planned to discontinue the presence of Portland Police Bureau officers in the city's largest district.


A few hours later, Mayor Ted Wheeler said he'll end the school resource officer program entirely, which places armed officers at schools in the Portland Public, David Douglas and Parkrose districts. Supporters of the officers say they've provided a key security role, and form relationships that help divert students from the criminal justice system.

However, the presence of armed officers in schools has been divisive for a long time, and felt particularly threatening to communities of color.

"What we are hearing loudly and clearly from the community is that they do not want this direct, physical, ongoing presence in the schools," Wheeler said, adding that the police will work with schools and parents to ensure the change doesn't mean officers cannot respond to emergencies quickly.

Wheeler said he'd already decided to end the program earlier this week   before Guerrero made his call   but had waited to announce it, to ensure he could inform everyone who needed to know.

In a memo to district leaders Thursday morning, the superintendent outlined plans to support students “through positive relationships, support, and affirming school culture and climate." One way to do that: End the use of school resource officers.

Earlier this week, Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty called for the defunding of school resource officers. At least two PPS school board members agreed with her.

"Let's join with the community and educators to create safe, nurturing learning environments through developmentally appropriate, trauma-informed and culturally-sensitive restorative practices," said board vice chair Rita Moore in a tweet Wednesday.

Board member Julia Brim-Edwards also tweeted in support of Hardesty's call.

Among the seven other recommendations in Guerrero’s memo: establish a community task force with PPS students focused on safety, provide transparent data on student discipline, and develop guidance for schools on how and when they should consult law enforcement.

David Douglas board member Andrea Valderrama also tweeted Thursday her own plan to pull police officers out of the schools. She urged the city of Portland to put the money it has been spending on the resource officer program to support retention of staff of color and restorative justice work.


"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," Valderrama said in her statement.

In January 2019, the PPS school board voted to suspend its contract with school resource officers, but conversations about the role of police officers in schools continued.

For more than a year, PPS has been in discussions for about the role SROs play in schools, with district leaders collecting student input.

Moore said the district heard from some students who appreciated the officers. But others expressed concern and fear over a daily police presence at school, saying SROs are part of a system that disproportionately affects people of color.

“That kind of emotional reaction is justifiable for many, many students, and it is not conducive to a productive learning environment,” Moore said.

Moore said she hopes the changes help students, especially Black students and other students of color, feel a sense of belonging in school.

“This is going to provide the kind of security schools need, but also do it in a way that is going to respond to the students' emotional needs,” Moore said.

The school board is also in the middle of overhauling both its search & seizure and student conduct policies.

"We're in the process of substantially reorienting to incorporate restorative justice and trauma informed practices," Moore said.

In his memo to district leaders, Guerrero also highlighted the district’s proposed plan for funds from the Student Investment Account. It included increased funding for social workers, counselors and mental-health supports in schools. But those funds are in some jeopardy as tax collections fall.

Following the Minneapolis death of George Floyd in police custody in May, Minneapolis Public Schools terminated its contract with the police department, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Following the news of Floyd's death, Guerrero released a statement.

“These violent acts traumatize us as students, family members, educators, and community members, and I share in your grief and anguish,” Guerrero said. “Now more than ever, we must remain resolute in our commitment to Black students.”

Community members in Seattle started a petition, asking Seattle Public Schools to cut its ties with the police department there, according to the Seattle Times.