Multnomah County Sheriffs Office Deputy Rafael Cortada joins Corbett as a school resource officer

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Deputy Rafael Cortada became a Corbett Cardinal this fall as the school district's school resource officer, a position to complement Community Resource Officer Joe Graziano.

From assisting with a lost cell phone to confronting a student smoking marijuana, from preventing crime to helping kids with their future plans, a school resource officer wears a variety of hats.

“You’re not just the cop, you’re the mentor and advocate for these kids,” said Jason Gates, Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office chief deputy. “Some of these kids have troubled home lives. The school resource officer goes off campus to get involved in what’s going on outside of school as well.”

The Newtown, Conn., school shooting last December spurred schools across the nation to ask how they could better protect students. In Corbett, parents, community members and leaders rallied for a student resource officer — an SRO — to join the school district, as other districts across Multnomah County have done.

This fall, Multnomah County Deputy Rafael Cortada became a Corbett Cardinal as the first designated SRO since 2004. Deputy Joe “Rocky” Graziano continues to serve as Corbett’s community resource officer, working closely with Cortada.

“With me being here, I hope kids feel like they can speak about the concerns they have,” Cortada said. “I hope they feel as though they’re safe and protected.”

Cortada brings 15 years of experience with the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, an academic background in clinical psychology and career experience in corrections. An East Coast native, Cortada is a marathon runner and the father of two grown children.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Outside of his work with the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office, Cortada is a marathon runner and aspires to try an ultra marathon.

“I share with the kids what I like to do,” Cortada said. “Marathons are one of the most honest things out there. You have to train, and if you don’t, you will know at mile 18 — it will remind you that you didn’t do all your homework. There’s a whole philosophy I’ve gained from running, and it’s a great stress reliever.”

The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office first introduced a deputy to Corbett in 1995. The position shifted into a broader community resource officer role in 2004 as the demand grew for an officer outside the school.

The sheriff’s office noticed the officer had been so engaged and active in the community that the 9-1-1 system was used less frequently and call logs decreased in number.

As the years evolved, Graziano helped the community form a citizens patrol group, which the sheriff and chief call a model for community policing concepts.

The sheriff’s office also has recruited young people from the Corbett area to its Search and Rescue program and Youth Citizens Academy over the years. Most recently, the agency conducted a training program for civilians and its staff on what to do in the case of an active shooter.

With a growing student population and outcry from community members after last December’s shooting in Newtown, Conn., it became apparent the community resource officer had become too big of a task to divide one deputy’s attention among Corbett and its school district.

“Joe is a part of that community, and they have adopted him,” Gates said. “That’s the relationship he’s built, and that’s the relationship we want our deputies to build. Rafael has only been there two months, but he’s already building that sort of relationship.”

Sheriff Dan Staton was the first deputy assigned to Corbett as an SRO. He said that by working with the school, parents and social service agencies, SROs are able to proactively address issues such as drugs, weapons, truancy and criminal behavior.

“My feeling is that if we can develop a bond between public safety and our educational system, we need to do it,” Staton said. “It keeps kids out of our court system. If you don’t have to drag a kid down to court, you don’t wreck the starting of their life with a charge. You can deal with it and track it.

“Breaking down the misunderstanding is a big deal,” Staton said. “We’re allowing the school to develop the program. If they want our deputies to wear jeans and a sweatshirt with a school name printed in it, I’m fine with that.”

The Corbett SRO position is funded by the school district and sheriff’s office. School Board Chairman Charlie O’Neil said the strong community desire for an SRO and the district’s offer to pay for one-third of the position was too good to pass up and freed Graziano for his other duties.

Gates and Staton said the sheriff’s office is seeking one-third of the funding from Multnomah County commissioners.

“The SRO is not just about security, it’s so much more with respect to not only creating a safe and healthy environment for students and staff, but also having an interaction with students and staff that goes beyond security,” Gates said. “They’re looking for grants to help the district provide better education systems within the schools, going over how people should enter with checks and balances control, seeking different kinds of educational opportunities for Corbett students and addressing simpler stuff you don’t usually think about, like Internet crime. Having that day-to-day interaction with students is hugely valuable.”

Kathryn Green, a parent and community member, said she’s ecstatic that children have an SRO to turn to if they feel shut down and need to tell someone they’re afraid or concerned.

And Cortada says the level of community involvement in Corbett complements his position perfectly.

“There are a lot of positive things here because there are so many families involved,” Cortada said. “I like to ask, ‘How can we make this a teaching moment and grow from it?’ It really is about helping people.”

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Cortada says Corbett's level of community involvement makes the SRO position successful.

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