The complicated role of a school resource officer is on display in Portland, where the school board and the police chief are at odds over the use of body cameras.

Police Chief Frank Clark wants the officers to use the cameras when they are on duty, just like the other 150 sworn members of the police force. He says that the data collected by the cameras in the schools should be stored at the police department, just like  the information collected by other officers.

But the school board is not ready to sign off. They don’t want images collected through incidental contact with a resource officer to be used for investigative purposes by the police or other law enforcement agencies. They want the images stored by the school department and only used for school purposes.

The stalemate is tense and could result in the end of the school resource officer program in Portland. It is a conflict that is likely to be repeated in other schools as body cameras become standard equipment in more police departments.

The nut of the dispute is the kind of work officers do when they are in schools.

Unlike a police officer in a patrol car, or one responding for a call for service, a school resource officer is often doing things outside the scope of normal police work.

They may be asked to mediate disputes, or offer informal counseling. They are often seen as members of the school community, like a teacher or an administrator. In some districts, the resource officer might serve lunch or take on other jobs that helps them develop relationships with students. Outside of school employees, very few adults have that that kind of access to students while they are in school.

So, school officials are right to be concerned about the uses of student information that has been collected by a school resource officer doing activities that are outside of their normal police work. Building positive relationships between students and a police officer is a good goal, but it should not expose students to surveillance.

In the past, many police officers were skeptical about the use of body cameras. But it’s now seen as valuable protection for officers when their conduct is called into question. We support equipping officers with body cameras because they create a record of law enforcement interaction with the public. We also recognize that there are times when they violate the public’s privacy and need to be turned off.

As Chief Clark says, school resource officers are entitled to the same protections as the other members of the department. But the chief should recognize that these officers have an unusual role and require an unusual solution.

 

 

 

 


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