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A new conversation about school safety?

Of the Keizertimes

A stalwart city volunteer and a candidate for the Keizer city council tried to jumpstart a new conversation about school safety at the Keizer City Council meeting Monday, August 6.

Matt Lawyer, a volunteer on several city committees, and Dan Kohler, a candidate running to replace Bruce Anderson when his term expires in January, presented the findings from an online survey Lawyer conducted in recent weeks regarding school safety.

While somewhat limited in terms of scope and responses (roughly 420), Lawyer said the overwhelming majority supported increasing school safety through additional school resource officers provided by local police departments or through trained, armed private security.

“As a dad, I wanted to see what I could do about (school safety). So I gathered information about what parents expect and what they would be willing to pay for it,” Lawyer said. “The data supports a new conversation.”

The survey put three questions to respondents, do you support having additional school resource officers (SROs) or armed security in schools, would you support increasing additional police funding through fees to pay for the personnel and whether the respondent lives in Keizer.

On the question of SROs and armed security, 52 percent of the 421 respondents said they wanted both, 28 percent said they would prefer SROs and 9 percent favored armed security. Only 9 percent said they wanted neither.

Regarding funding, 29 percent said cost did not matter to them. Nearly 24 percent said they would be willing to add $3-$5 to the existing public services fee, 16 percent said they would support a $2-$3 increase. About a quarter of respondents didn’t want to pay more for increased security.

More than 91 percent of respondents lived in Keizer.

“I understand that this is sensitive but, as a parent with two kids, I can’t know I had a chance and chose not to ask the questions,” Lawyer said.

While no formal requests were made, Lawyer and Kohler said they hoped to see the city engage with the Salem-Keizer School District regarding the results of the survey and, if the district does not act, potentially put the issue on the ballot for Keizer voters.

“We aren’t proposing one thing or the other, but the school district has chosen to ignore it. We can’t sit around and do nothing,” added Kohler.

Lawyer said the goal is not to create a punitive environment, but to secure school campuses.

City councilors responses were mixed. Councilor Roland Herrera asked how the survey was distributed. Lawyer, Kohler, Keizer Mayor Cathy Clark, and state Rep. Bill Post all called for participation through Facebook, but Herrera said that responses from his circle would likely be far different.

Councilor Kim Freeman expressed concern over the limited number of responses and suggested making the topic central to a upcoming Community Conversation hosted by the Keizer Chamber of Commerce.

“I don’t know if you plan to present this to the district, but I encourage you to do it. I, like a lot of folks, am concerned about school safety. Do you envision us hiring more police officers? I’m not sure how the jurisdictional issue and how it comports with the district,” said Anderson.

Councilor Laura Reid, who is a teacher at McNary High School, took issue with the notion that the district was ignoring the problem.

“To say that they haven’t done anything or aren’t listening isn’t really fair. I would encourage you, as you proceed, to reach out to (Superintendent) Christy Perry regarding the district’s fact-finding and marry the two,” Reid said.

Even Keizer Police Chief John Teague chimed in when asked about his take on the proposals.

“Our interest in being in the schools is not to enforce the law, it’s to see the law enforced a whole lot less in the schools,” Teague said. “If increased security is the goal, then they should have armed security. You can get a whole lot more armed security for your dollar than you do cops. Whether that is palatable to people, I don’t know.”

Teague said he could envision an additional two SRO positions, but that would likely be the furthest reasonable extension of what KPD can offer.