A revised agreement between Portland schools and the police department governing officers in schools prompted questions and comments from school board members Tuesday night, many of them focused around the implications of body cameras worn by officers.

The Portland Board of Public Education got a first read of the proposed memorandum of understanding with the police department Tuesday and is expected to vote on the agreement March 17.

The school district has two officers, at Deering and Portland high schools. Both have been outfitted with body cameras as part of a move to equip all officers in Portland with them last year, but they have not turned them on.

In response to board members’ questions, Police Chief Frank Clark said since the issue first came to the school board last fall he has asked the school officers to track how often they would have turned on their cameras and it has been “literally between zero and one time” per month.

Some board members still expressed concerns about the cameras and when they would be turned on, and other questions about the school resource officer programy.

“When I consider any policy change, I wonder around the reason for it,” said board member Anna Trevorrow. “In this case I know this will be in line with Portland policy but I wonder beyond that and specific to schools, what is the problem we’re trying to address with body cameras?”

“From the city’s perspective and my perspective the cameras are a tool,” Clark said. “I think the frequency of their use is low and that’s a good thing. It reflects on the work being done in our schools. The times we would ask to activate them are when our actions as the police department could be called into question. It’s a benefit certainly to the officer and certainly to the student to have an objective view of how those actions unfolded if they are called into question.”

Superintendent Xavier Botana also said that while the cameras are not something the district sought on its own, it supports the police department’s decision to implement them.

Board member Marnie Morrione said she supports collaboration with the police department and would like to see an educational piece for students if the agreement is approved so they can be made aware of why the cameras are being used.

“This is a learning moment,” she said. “It shouldn’t just be, ‘We’re going to bring this in.’ There should be an active discussion with the students.”

Board Chair Roberto Rodriguez, who in the past has expressed general concerns about the school resource officer program and the impact of the officers on students, said Tuesday night that while he is grateful for the district’s and department’s work to revise their agreement, “I still worry about a lot of the murky water in which we’re operating this system.”

“I appreciate knowing there are only a few instances where cameras would be turned on and I also appreciate the number of arrests have been also non-existent, so it begs the question, what exactly are they doing?” Rodriguez said. “What is their purpose in our schools?”

“Their presence in itself is a deterrent,” Botana said. “They are acting in many instances as a trusted adult for our students. The fact they don’t make a lot of arrests is a good reflection on the status of what is happening in our schools and the work our SRO’s do.”

The revised agreement between the district and police department includes provisions that body cameras not operate in covert mode and that the videos be downloaded daily to a secure server in custody of the Portland Police Department.

It also includes restrictions on how and to whom the videos could be released.

The police department, for example, would only be allowed to release videos to juvenile justice authorities or prosecutors to review juvenile charges, and could only do so with parental consent or through legal processes.

The district is looking at revising its policies between now and June to address broader questions about how the officer program operates, and in the meantime has also included a provision in the revised MOU that would require officers to attend a national training program within a year of assignment.Portland

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