South Portland Police Chief Ed Googins and Superintendent Ken Kunin report there has been no issues with the use of body cameras in South Portland schools since the police department started using the technology in 2017. Alfred Giusto, above, is one of the two resource officers in the school system. File photo

SOUTH PORTLAND — While Portland school and police officials have hit a wall over the use of body cameras by school resource officers, their counterparts across the bridge say their SRO body camera program has operated without a hitch.

“We’ve not had any issues over here,” said Chief Ed Googins of the South Portland Police Department, which became the first in the state with body cameras in early 2017. “The cameras are used by our (school resource officers) very infrequently and are only utilized when they are administering some sort of law enforcement authority.”

Googins said since September, the SROs’ body cameras have been used 51 times. The officers also respond to non-school calls, he said, and he could not specify school-related camera use.

The Portland Police Department and Portland School Department were expected to reach an agreement on school resource officers’ use of body cameras at a Nov. 12 School Board meeting, but the decision was postponed after the board told police it needed more time to think about the role body cameras and resource officers play in the schools.

At issue in particular was where the cameras’ video files would be stored. The police department is adamant the recordings should be held at the police station, along with recordings from the department’s other body cameras. School leadership disagrees.

South Portland’s video is stored at the police station. When minors are captured on video, Googins said, their parent or guardian can meet with the officer and review the footage, which is stored at the police station. Googins said he doesn’t know how often parents or guardians have made a request to see the video of a specific incident.

South Portland Superintendent Ken Kunin said he has no qualms about his district’s two school resource officers, Alfred Giusto at the high school and Ryan Le at the two middle schools, wearing body cameras.

“It would be a concern if we were seeing an increase in students charged with crimes as a result, but we are not. I am not sure we have seen a reduction, but I don’t think we have seen a substantial change,” Kunin said. “We work really hard with the police to make sure we are not criminalizing behavior when kids are acting out at school.”

Googins said under South Portland’s policy the cameras are turned on only if officers are involved in a call for service, and all officers are trained when to use their body cameras and when not to.

Portland’s proposal mirrors the South Portland program about when the cameras are used, where the footage is stored and who can access and review that footage.

Under the current proposal, Portland’s two high school resource officers would use body cameras “only when responding to cases of suspected criminal activity or when assisting school personnel with matters that may result in disorderly or otherwise disruptive behavior.”

Cameras would not be used in places such as locker rooms or restrooms unless “the activation is required for the performance of official duties,” or during routine meetings with parents, students or staff, the agreement says.

Portland Police Chief Frank Clark, who worked for more than 20 years in the South Portland department, said the cameras’ recordings would be stored at Portland Police Department headquarters and accessible only to police officers. The department would authorize how the recordings would be released.

“I think there’s hesitation around the use of body cameras by (school resource officers) in our schools for good reasons. Who has access to that information and how is it stored? There are concerns about whether students feel comfortable when they’re being recorded and I think we need to have more conversations before we fully act on it,” school board member Anna Trevorrow said.

The school board and the police department are negotiating the latest agreement and the presence of the school resource officers could be at stake, the city says.

“While the Manager and Chief feel strongly about continuing good faith efforts toward a resolution over these issues, both realize there are city policies that must be followed,” Jessica Grondin, spokesperson for the city said in statement last week. “At some point, both sides will have to decide whether or not they want to keep the school resource officers in Portland high schools if we aren’t able to come to an agreement.”

Grondin said school resource officers will remain at the schools while negotiations happen, but will not have cameras activated.

“It’s important to keep in mind the integrity of the Portland Police Department when it comes to these issues and the success they’ve had with their longstanding (school resource officers) and community policing programs in Portland,” she said.

Michael Kebede, policy counsel for the ACLU of Maine, said his organization is worried about the use of body cameras in schools because they erode students’ right to privacy.

“Body cams make sense elsewhere, but not so much in schools,” he said at an Oct. 29 workshop on the subject.

Portland High School Principal Sheila Jepson doesn’t worry how the cameras would be used in her school.

“I can see both sides and I would have to go to trusting my school resource officer on when and if it’s going to be used, and I do,” Jepson said at the workshop.

Memorial Middle School Principal Rebecca Stern said having a school resource officer in her building has been a “great opportunity for our kids to get to know a police officer in a different way.”

“He’s been really supportive of our students and a positive presence in our school. He is here to maintain safety in the school, but also build relationships,” she said of Le.

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