PORTLAND, Ore. — Kristen Downs will tell you that her four children are her world. As a result, she has been thinking a lot about the recent shootings outside Portland high schools.
The latest happened earlier this month outside of the Franklin High School gym, as a large crowd watched a basketball game inside.
"My kid could've been in the pep band," Downs said. "It was pure chaos, with parents and students fleeing out to the parking lot where the school shooting occurred."
The thought of that is too much for Downs. She's created a change.org petition that calls for School Resource Officers to return to Portland Public Schools. Downs believes that SROs can act as a criminal deterrent and keep communities safe from gun violence and illicit drugs.
According to Downs, the officers can do even more than that.
"SROs work in tandem with counselors and mental health professionals," she said. "They work in tandem with educators and they forge these positive relationships that police who show up at a scene don't have access to."
Much of the good will toward the SRO program vanished in June 2020. George Floyd had just died at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis. Law enforcement was under a microscope. And in Portland, the decision was made to disband the SRO program.
"I'm frustrated the conversation in the community has become very binary," PPS Board Chair Andrew Scott said at a press conference last week. "Are you going to have school resource officers or not?"
After the recent shootings outside Portland schools, in which several students have been injured, district leaders are tossing around the idea of bringing back School Resource Officers — but any final decision does not appear to be imminent.
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It's possible that the district's reservations mirror those of ACLU of Oregon Executive Director Sandy Chung. In the wake of the shooting outside Franklin High, Chung told KGW that she thinks too many students, especially Black students, are suspended, expelled or arrested when SROs are in school buildings.
"If they're not going to effectively prevent gun violence but have adverse impacts on the students of color and disabilities why would the school be even looking at this," Chung said.
Part of the reason SROs were so easily jettisoned in 2020 is that the data is not at all clear on whether their presence decreases violence or crime, though they are associated with an increase in arrests for minor offenses.
But Downs argues that SROs are necessary to keep school communities safe in the current climate, when shootings near Portland schools are becoming more common. In her opinion there is nothing more important — and that is her motivation for the change.org petition. Right now it's been signed by more than 250 people.
"We need to have our voices heard," Downs said. "Together we can't be ignored. It's going to take all of our voices for the PPS superintendent and administrators and school board to enact change. We need school resource officers."