OREGON, Ohio — With several recent mass shootings, safety is at the forefront of parent’s minds. Meanwhile, Oregon City Schools has placed an increased emphasis on it in the last years.
"If safety isn't the number one priority thing you're thinking about right now then there's a problem," Oregon City School Superintendent Hal Gregory said.
Starting last January, they made the joint investment with the City of Oregon to place one school resource officer at every single school in the district.
The conversation about school safety has evolved as we've seen dozens of school shootings across the country. School leaders in Oregon said it's a priority and it's one they do not take lightly.
"it's just something we talk about all the time,”Gregory said. “It's not taboo. "
Oregon City Schools first brought in school resource officers for increased student safety back in 1998 and just last year increased their presence even further. In addition to their cameras, alert systems and more every single building in the district, from high school to elementary, will have an officer on campus.
"It's such a new idea of putting them at that level that a lot of agencies are looking at different ways that what they are doing what the programming is," said Sgt. Antonio Castillo with the Community Policing Support Service for the Oregon Police Department.
All six officers are highly trained to handle anything. Not just an active shooter, but parental disputes, truancy and more. Gregory said they've been lucky to have such a strong partnership for so long. He knows it makes a difference.
"They are educating kids little comments at a time, right in the moments that they have questions,” he said. “It's not delayed, it's not formal training. It's that informal touch that we all learn by and it's just awesome."
Castillo has been in the schools since Oregon first got a school resource officer in 1998 and he said while officers protocol and duties have changed over time, the benefit they provide in the schools hasn’t. He travels across the county to train officers at other schools.
Castillo said the biggest benefit of having a school resource officer presence is about building relationships. They want to be there for students, teachers and parents, whether it's specializing in active shooter situation training for elementary students or having critical conversations with others. It all helps build trust and it strengthens their community.
"It's the opportunity for people to share information with us and it's a two-way street,” Castillo said. “Whether it's us sharing information with the school or vice versa or parents and students coming to us. Again, it's just opened up those lines of communication and the benefit for us is whether it’s short term or long term down the road the interaction the communication is a lot better."
In an ever-changing society, Oregon City Schools are constantly working to improve their safety protocol and going beyond the training. They are teaching students situational awareness and have created a threat assessment team that works to address red flags as they appear.
"We dig in just a little bit deeper now because the whole goal is to help a kid get better if they are at a bad place,” Gregory said. “And prevent something from happening to other kids and people in our school and the only real way to do that is to really understand our kids."
Gregory said none of their safety changes are meant to infringe on students or make it feel scary, but to let them know they are safe and can focus on their education.
School resource officers said they are ready for the new year and to help however way they can.
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