District increases its contribution to fund officers on campus

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Officer Kristan Rinell assists Metzger Elementary students. Rinell serves as a school resource officer in the Tigard-Tualatin School District, which recently agreed to contribute $50,000 to the security program in Tualatin.School safety is worth $50,000 a year, the Tigard-Tualatin School District agreed when it approved last year’s budget — and then some — to keep Tualatin police officers on-campus.

The City Council approved an intergovernmental agreement with the district last week, specifying that the city would continue to provide three officers from the Tualatin Police Department to collectively patrol Tualatin public schools.

But that amount is only meant to offset costs and only covers about half the cost of one resource officer, including salary, benefits and related costs, according to district spokeswoman Susan Stark Haydon.

The district’s contribution has increased over the past year. Until a year ago, one officer was funded completely through a grant under the federal Safe Schools-Healthy Students Initiative. When that source dried up, the city agreed to use city funds to help maintain the team of resource officers, Stark Haydon said. Because the city was paying additional costs, the district agreed to pay more.

The officers’ role on campus is not purely disciplinary. The intergovernmental agreement describes how in addition to enhancing school safety, resource officers provide a positive image of law enforcement officers.

The officers themselves agree that early, frequent interaction with police is beneficial to students.

“We try to have an open-door policy,” explained Officer Brian Miller, who just began his third year as a Tualatin school resource officer. “We try to stay plenty visible, so all our contact we have with the kids isn’t just negative.”

It comes down to being a “visible resource” for students, he said.

With Officer Kevin Miller, Brian Miller works from an office at Tualatin High School. Both divvy up patrol of the city’s three elementary schools, with Officer Wes Gerardi.

According to Brian Miller, there is always at least one pair of boots on the ground at the high school.

“We do education classes, we enforce all Oregon laws up there,” he said. “We have counseling-related duties. We’re kind of jack of all trades up there.”

In an interview with The Times last year, Tigard Police Officer Kristan Rinell described the counseling aspect of her job as a kind of early intervention.

“There have been places and times when it would have been quite applicable (to arrest a child in grade school), but there are other avenues that have been taken. A lot of these kids have emotional issues. Law enforcement isn’t really going to fix the problem,” she said.

Brian Miller would agree.

“Some issues might not rise to the level of criminal prosecution, but law-related counseling situation,” he said. “I think that every day, just being there, just breaks down a barrier.”

School resource officers in Tualatin and Tigard serve for four years, and must apply for what is considered a special assignment. Brian Miller decided to apply for the position after working in a similar program in Grants Pass for nearly a decade.

“I have a pretty positive personality, kind of goofy,” he said. “I think I can just fit in well with the kids. It’s fulfilling for me.”

“Having them in our schools is truly a preventative measure,” Stark Haydon said of the officers. “Kids develop great relationships with the SROs because of the teaching that happens in the schools, and because they’re seen as helpers. It’s been a really positive program, and we appreciate the support we get both from the city of Tualatin and the city of Tigard to make it happen.”

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