EUGENE, Ore. -- Almost a year after school resource officers were removed from 4J schools, Police Chief Chris Skinner is making his pitch for bringing them back, but this time under a new model.
The controversial topic came up at Monday's city council meeting during a discussion over how to spend Eugene's new payroll tax money.
School resource officers (SROs) have been out of Eugene School District 4J schools since December 2020. The decision to remove them was made in June last year when the school board decided to renew their contract only through the end of the year.
This came after many people said they didn't want officers in schools. Some felt the funds used for SROs could be used elsewhere on other services, and others shared concerns that the presence of police may make some students of color feel unsafe.
At Monday's meeting, Skinner said officers shouldn't only be in schools when something bad happens. He said that's not the kind of relationship he wants to have with the school district.
"It absolutely floors me that a school district of this size would make decisions without any kind of consultation and set a framework by which officers are removed from young kids' lives except for when they need us to come and enforce something," Skinner said.
Skinner said he hopes to revamp the traditional SRO model and put administrators more in charge of low-level discipline. He wants to build relationships with students through education and mentoring.
"We're not immune to school violence or workplace violence or campus violence," Skinner said. "So, we have to be mindful of that, but there's a way to build a system where our police officers in a variety of looks and feels can be really a part of these kids' lives that doesn't feel punitive and doesn't feel enforcement oriented."
He said he's ready to build something unique and get back into the schools.
A spokesperson with the 4J district said right now, they only contract with police for special events, and they're continuing conversations about the future of youth services going forward.
Maurie Denner, a former 4J principal, said he was there when SROs were first hired. He said removing them from the school is a mistake.
"It creates a relationship between the general student body, everyday kids, and an awareness that the police are basically here to help," Denner said. "The officers do a lot of things in and around the school to make sure kids are safe."
Denner told KEZI he's always been a strong advocate for having SROs available.