LONG BEACH PENINSULA — As preparations for the 2020-21 school year continue to dominate the agenda at Ocean Beach School District, another expected change at OBSD was on the minds of the district’s school board last week: the addition of a school resource officer to its ranks.
Across the country, local school boards are debating the role of law enforcement officers in their schools following the killing of George Floyd, an African American man who was killed by police while being arrested on May 25 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. At its June 24 meeting, the OBSD Board of Directors discussed its own school resource officer, who started on the job this spring after in-person learning was canceled for the remainder of the school year.
As part of the safety and security levy that voters approved with 59.3% of the vote last April, OBSD partnered with the Long Beach Police Department to hire a resource officer for its schools. That officer, Tim Mortenson, began in his role as resource officer toward the end of this school year, albeit with no students at school. Mortenson used those first couple of months for training and to gain a familiarity with his position and the district’s schools.
Policeman in our school?
The discussion about the resource officer position came up at last week’s meeting as the school board reviewed a host of new and revised policies, including Policy 4311, which details the resource officer position at OBSD. Board member Tiffany Turner said she didn’t want to open a can of worms, “but I wonder in light of current situations if we at some point want to talk about having a policeman in our school?”
Turner is an organizer of local Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Long Beach and Seaview.
Huntley said it might be a conversation worth having. She noted that OBSD is not located in a major metropolitan area and said the district knows its resource officer more personally. The goal of OBSD’s program, she said, is not to have the officer at the schools to police students, but to implement safety measures for staff and the district while also being a resource for people to reach out to.
“It’s very much so that people feel that if they have something to report, they have someone they trust to report it to that won’t make a huge thing out of it. They’ll investigate it and find out if it’s a huge thing before a big deal is made of it,” Huntley said.
Huntley said the district has had good experiences with LBPD in previous situations, such as when a student has made a threat. An officer will visit the student’s home and talk with them and their guardians, discuss the situation and ensure the student doesn’t have access to weapons, but it will not be blown out of proportion and turn into a bigger deal than it needs to be.
Turner agreed and said she thinks the area’s local law enforcement officers do great work, but said it’s still probably worth having a discussion about the expectations of the position. Turner also said she wants to ensure the district’s resources are being maximized to create the safest environment possible.
Board member John Holtermann said the presence of the resource officer could allow for students to understand the value of a strong connection between a community and its law enforcement officers, while at the same time addressing social issues that Americans throughout the country are grappling with. At the end of the day, he said, the addition of a resource officer is something people wanted.
“That is what people voted for: the additional security,” Holtermann said.
Huntley said while the resource officer position is tied to the levy passed last year, the district is not committed to anything long-term and no decisions about the position’s future have been made. The short-term goal of the resource officer’s presence in the schools is to help change the staff and student culture around safety, she said, and the hope is for their physical presence to eventually not be a distraction at all for students.
“We feel very safe because we’re in a small town, and teachers and students are learning and socializing and teaching, and not thinking about the fact that they propped that door open,” said Huntley. “I think it’s important to establish more routines and put emphasis on that, but absolutely we should have that conversation.”