PORTLAND, Ore. — At 2:57 p.m. Sept. 16, an official at Franklin High School in Southeast Portland called 911 for help.
“We need police presence immediately,” said Vice Principal Robyn Griffiths, in an audio recording of the 911 call obtained through a public records request. Griffiths told the emergency dispatcher that someone had been flashing guns while driving by the high school in Southeast Portland.
“I’ve been called, radioed multiple times for police. Get police presence,” Griffiths told the emergency dispatcher. In the background of the 911 call, there were sounds of commotion and several voices — someone hollered that there were multiple fights happening.
“There’s just a bunch of people outside like really worried and scrambling,” explained Griffiths.
The 911 call was dispatched as a priority one, which typically means an emergency call that’s in progress and life threatening, according to the Bureau of Emergency Communications (BOEC).
Despite the urgent nature of the call, BOEC records show a Portland police officer didn’t arrive on scene at Franklin High School until 4:17 p.m. — one hour and 20 minutes after the initial 911 call by school staff.
A KGW investigation found police were slow to respond or didn’t respond at all to at least three separate incidents involving guns spotted near the Portland high school in mid-September.
Earlier that same day, Sept. 16, another vice principal called 911 at 1:22 p.m. to report a different gun threat.
“A student just reported to me that a car pulled up on them and came out — two students pulled out and reach for what they thought were weapons,” Franklin Vice Principal Scott Burns told a 911 dispatcher in a recording of the call.
Burns explained the gun incident occurred roughly ten minutes earlier — just off campus. He worried about the safety of Franklin students in the general area.
“I have students out and about. We’re on lunch right now. And so, I need to report that right away,” Burns told the emergency dispatcher.
The 911 dispatcher reassured the vice principal that help was on the way and would meet Burns in front of Franklin High School.
Portland Police never showed up. Instead, an officer called and left a voicemail at 9:48 p.m. The call was cleared roughly eight hours later, according to BOEC records.
Three days later, on September 19, Franklin Vice Principal Alfredo Quintero called 911 at 11:33 a.m. to report another gun threat. It involved two students who’d previously been in a fight.
“We got a report this morning that there was a student at Clinton Park showing off a gun and he made a threat that he was going to shoot another student,” Quintero told the emergency dispatcher in a recording of the call.
A Portland Police officer arrived at Franklin at 11:58 a.m. — roughly 25 minutes after the vice principal called 911.
A spokesperson for Portland Police said he was researching why it took so long for officers to respond to the gun incidents at Franklin, although he never followed-up with an explanation.
Portland Public Schools declined to comment on the police response.
“When you look at the responses that you are getting, we have a gap there. I mean — it is pretty evident,” said Rick Puente, Vice President of the Oregon School Resource Officers Association. Seconds matter when responding to incidents on or near campus, he said.
In June 2020, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, Portland discontinued the presence of armed police officers in Portland Public Schools — a move activists had demanded for years.
“When you remove a school resource officer or program, you leave that gap,” Puente said. “I always look at it like — you get a flat tire — instead of repairing it, you remove it and keep going down the street on three wheels. It is going to be a bumpy ride.”
The sluggish response to gun incidents near Franklin High School help illustrate a citywide problem. So far this year, Portland Police response times are averaging 15.6 minutes for high priority calls, compared to 12.2 minutes in 2021 and 10.6 in 2020.
Police blame a critical staffing shortage, but suggest that recent hires may help.
“We’re going to try to get to every call we can,” said Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell. “We do our best to answer them. And we understand that even if it is not a homicide or a shooting, having your stuff stolen, having your home violated by an intruder is traumatic and we want to do our best to address those with the resources we have.”