For the past five school years, Officer Jason Mills has come to Parkrose High School at least four days a week. Aside from being called to a scene or to the Portland streets, Mills has a duty as Parkrose School District’s Resource Officer.
School resource officers provide security and crime prevention services in the schools and take proactive approaches by teaching classes and developing relationships with the students and staff. Mills also visits middle schools as part of the G.R.E.A.T. (Gang Resistance Education And Training) program.
His job is to “provide resources to the school and students….to foster positive relationships with the students in the community and the youth, to protect the students from crimes that are occurring inside and outside the school and to help kids reach their highest potential,” Mills said.
To become a school resource officer, an officer must be on the police force for about five years before they can apply for a specialty unit.
Mills said that becoming a school resource officer is something he has always wanted to do because he likes working with youth and being proactive instead of reactive.
“A lot of times on patrol, you are reacting to crimes that have already occurred. In schools, you have a little bit more of an opportunity to be proactive and prevent crimes before they become bigger issues,” Mills said.
Mills is assigned to 13 schools, including: Parkrose High School, Parkrose Middle School, seven elementary schools, two alternative schools and one behavioral school. This divides his time, which is part of the reason he is not always available at the high school. Mills also supports other Portland Public schools.
According to Mills, being a regular police officer and a school resource officer are very similar.
“Well, I am a regular police officer. Sometimes people think that school officer is different from a regular patrol officer. We’re not, we are the same. In fact, I work patrol one day a week, so I function in both capacities. It is a little bit different just in the sense of how I spend my day,” Mills said.
According to Principal Molly Ouche, having a school resource officer on the campus has had a positive impact on students.
“It’s been a really proactive program. It’s a way we can connect the police to our community as a resource. I know a lot of students who have built really positive relationships with our school resource officers, and I think if we didn’t have someone dedicated to Parkrose, then that would be harder to do,” Ouche said.
Many Parkrose students said that having a school resource officer on campus makes them feel safer at school and prevents crimes from taking place on campus.
“I feel safer with the school resource officer on campus because then there is always one to watch us to make sure nothing bad happens,” freshman Amethyst Hill said.
Mills said Officer O’Keefe, a former G.R.E.A.T. officer, was influential in making Mills want to become a police officer. O’Keefe guided Mills through the process of applying. He also set up ride-alongs so Mills could observe the day-to-day job of a police officer.
Mills said he enjoys being a police officer because he likes to help people deal with poor choices and conflicts. He likes to be involved in the community by helping people problem solve.
However, being a police officer also comes with some challenges.
“When you see really negative things that happen to juvies, that is frustrating and difficult to work through, especially since I have two young kids, and you can personalize it somewhat in that way. That can be a challenge,” Mills said.
Despite seeing many negative things during his job, Mills said that being involved with his church and friends who do not have the same occupation as him reminds him that not everyone is bad.
“It is easy to get that perception because mostly you are dealing with crimes, and it’s easy to think that everybody is that way, but they’re not,” he said.
Mills said that police officers tend to be interpreted as people who want to harm others. He said that is a misconception.
“We want to help people, we want to do right to people, but that means both sides have to work together on that. It’s not just about the police pursuing the community and building those relationships, it’s also about the community pursuing the police and getting to know us,” Mills said.
Mills said that if students have any questions, they should go to his office to talk to him.
“That’s why I’m here,” Mills said. “I have an office here … before you draw any conclusions, make sure you do your part and ask questions. I always like to talk about those things,” he said.
Photo By Pavel Nikitin