PORTLAND —  The Portland Board of Education is expected Tuesday to review, and possibly adopt, a new agreement on school resource officers’ use of body-worn cameras at Portland and Deering high schools for the remainder of the school year.

The new agreement clarifies how the cameras’ recordings are shared, requires recording to be downloaded daily to a secure server at the police department, prohibits the cameras from being used in covert mode and requires specialized training for school resource officers.

The conversation that began in the fall has raised questions not only about the use of body cameras around students but also the overall role resource officers have in the schools.

School board member Sarah Thompson told the Forecaster she is worried about the future of school resource officers on campus if the agreement isn’t passed Tuesday.

“I am pretty nervous if we shoot it down because I am very supportive of school resource officers,” she said. “There is momentum on the board not to approve this and that concerns me greatly.”

The Portland Police Department requested the school district update the policy at the beginning of the school year so school resource officers, like other officers in the department, can use body cameras as part of their work. Michael Bennis and Steven Black, the department’s two school resource officers, have been outfitted with body cameras, but have not been authorized to use them.

Portland Police Chief Frank Clark said based on conversations with Bennis and Black, the devices are not expected to be used much more than one or two times a month in the schools.

The two parties attempted to reach an agreement this fall, but school board members said more negotiations were needed.

The latest version of the agreement, which is set for a second review March 17, mandates that the cameras be used only when officers are responding to suspected criminal activity that could result in arrests or summonses or “instances  that involve or are likely to involve disruptive, adversarial or confrontational behavior.”

Clark said there has only been an average of between one and four arrests in Portland schools over the last eight years.

Police would be prohibited from using the cameras in administrative meetings with staff or students or in places where privacy is expected, such as bathrooms or locker rooms, unless activation is warranted. Officers would be required to alert individuals the camera is turned on “as soon as practical or safe to do so.”

The agreement would also require student resource officers to take part in the five-day, 40-hour National Association of School Resource Officer training course, which Bennis and Black have already completed.

Access to the cameras’ recordings has been one of the sticking points in negotiations.

“That was the most substantive issue we had to deal with and the one that required the most amount of work,” Superintendent Xavier Botana said at a March 3 workshop on the school resource officer agreement.

The recordings would be required to be downloaded daily on a secure server at the police department, where they will be retained for 385 days. Parents or guardians would be able to schedule a time to see the footage either at the police department or where the recording occurred.

A recording would not be subject to a public access request or released to anyone other than juvenile justice officials and prosecutors without parental permission or court order. The recordings would also not be released to the school district unless requested by the superintendent and the police department agrees there is a “legitimate reason” to do so.

Although no vote was taken, board members were divided on whether to adopt the updated agreement in part because of concerns about when the cameras could be used in responding to issues within in the schools.

Last fall, former South Portland Police Chief Ed Googins said the department, the first in the state with body cameras in early 2017, has not had issues with body cameras in schools.

“We’ve not had any issues over here,” Googins said. “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.”

Botana said “decisions to turn on the body cameras (would) be made by the school resource officer based on their training and police protocol,” not because staff asked them to do so. They would also not be used when a staff member is issuing disciplinary action.

School Board Chairman Roberto Rodriguez said he is glad to hear arrests are low in Portland schools, but it “begs the question” of the purpose of school resource officers in the first place.

“They are not being used very often. They shouldn’t be used in disciplinary issues. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of criminal activity,” Rodriguez said.

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

Rodriguez said he would like to see the breakdown of the demographics of the students involved in incidents school resource officers are responding to, to make sure special education students, economically disadvantaged students and minorities are not being disproportionately being impacted.

“Even when we, here in Portland, have a model (agreement with the Police Department), phenomenal police officers, supportive superintendent, administrators who get it, even when we have all those pieces in place, we are normalizing a practice that in many other districts and many other schools, have produced significant problems,” Rodriguez said.

Board member Marnie Morrione said she supports school resource officers in the schools and sees this discussion as a learning opportunity for students.

“It should be an interactive discussion with students so they can understand this and discuss this,” Morrione said.

The agreement, if passed, would be in effect until the end of June. The board will continue to work with the police department to address some of the other concerns that have been raised about how the school resource officer program works for next school year’s agreement.

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