New data shows Portland police are arresting Black students at double the rate than their white peers. That information reflects the concerns of student activists who have been recently working to keep Portland Public Schools (PPS) from hiring more Portland cops to patrol school campuses.
According to data from the City Budget Office (CBO), PPB officers arrested 28 individuals under 21 years old on campuses during school hours during the 2017-18 fiscal year. Sixteen of those students were Black, eight were white, three were Hispanic or Latino and one was Asian.
Those arrest rates contrast starkly with PPS demographics; while more than half of arrested students were Black, only about 9 percent of the general student population is Black, according to PPS data. It does, however, reflect national data, which shows Black students are more likely to be arrested at school than any other race.
The majority of these arrests were made by Student Resource Officers (SROs), which are PPB officers specifically assigned to PPS campuses. The police bureau currently employees 12 SROs—nine of which are assigned to PPS campuses.
This new data could have some bearing on how—and if—PPB’s SRO program is funded in the future.
In October of last year, the PPS board of directors approved an agreement to start paying the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) about $1 million a year for nine SROs. SROs have had a presence in Portland schools since the early 2000s, but the district had never reimbursed PPB for their services before. The move drew swift criticism and action from a group of student activists, prompting the PPS board to suspend the original contract. The two agencies are currently negotiating a new deal.
Many of those student activists worried that they couldn’t trust police officers to not unfairly target people of color.
“As a person of color, I've never felt safe in the presence of police officers,” Grant High School senior Micah Mizushima told the Mercury in January. “I've always felt that simply by being around a police officer was threatening to me because I see police officers as unpredictable and it scares me.”
The Portland City Council is in early stages of determining the budget for the next fiscal year, and could decide to eliminate PPB’s SRO program. CBO noted that redirecting SROs to other positions could help alleviate “constrained resources and limited patrol staffing levels” in the bureau.