Portland police have agreed to honor a request by the Board of Education to put the use of body cameras by school resource officers on hold as the board and department work out an agreement on rules governing body camera use in schools.

The decision comes a day after the board voted unanimously to ask the police department to delay activating the cameras and expressed concerns about student privacy and custody of the video recordings.

“I still don’t have many details on how we’re going to (work out an agreement) but we heard from the chief this morning he will hold off,” school board Chair Roberto Rodriguez said Wednesday. “I think this represents what the board voted on last night.”

Although the state lacks data on how many Maine school resource officers use body cameras, experts say it is an emerging issue for school districts. It is likely Portland Public Schools is one of the first districts in the state to look at developing usage rules.

“I think the concern is about where that information goes,” said Steve Bailey, executive director of the Maine School Management Association. “Who has access to it and how is it shared? Within the school setting right now that is within the purview of the school department.”

The association provides guidance to districts on relations between police and schools, but doesn’t have any on the use of body cameras.

Typically, schools are hesitant to allow video to be taken without parental permission for release of the information, Bailey said. School surveillance cameras and cameras on school buses are property of school departments, which have the final say over privacy for students.

There are about 80 school resource officers in Maine, according to the Department of Corrections, but neither that department nor the Maine Department of Education tracks body-camera use.

Nationally, about 30 percent of K-12 schools have resource officers and a growing number are using body cameras, said Mac Hardy, director of operations for the National Association of School Resource Officers.

While policies vary from place to place, in most cases police departments are the custodians of the video recordings, Hardy said. If school resource officers are being used correctly – as law enforcement officers and not as disciplinarians – schools should not have to worry about students being captured on video unless a crime is committed, he said.

“(The best agreement) would have to go by each individual police department’s policy,” Hardy said. “By no means do we have an overwhelming concern either way with whatever they decide. Our concern is simply for the overall safety of the learning environment.”

The South Portland School Department is one of the few – if not the only – districts in Maine to have school resource officers use body cameras.

Police Chief Ed Googins said camera use began about three years ago and there was no discussion about who would have custody of the video recordings, which are maintained by the police department.

“(Student privacy) was not something that was brought to my attention as an issue,” Googins said. “We use the video only for official reasons. We don’t post this stuff like some agencies do across the country. We’re very cognizant of people’s privacy issues.”

Tuesday’s Portland school board vote came two weeks after the board first looked over a draft of language to be included in the district’s memorandum of understanding with the police department.

The district currently has two school resource officers – one at Portland High School and one at Deering High School – and pays $130,000 to cover the cost.

After hearing concerns raised by board members and the public, Botana said Tuesday, the district hadn’t been able to agree with the department over who would have custody of the video recordings.

“Previous MOUs have helped ensure the SRO program builds a positive relationship between law enforcement, students, school administration and staff,” he said in a news release Wednesday. “I look forward to revising the MOU to address everyone’s concerns and preserve that positive relationship.”

The city, in a news release Wednesday, said it hopes the negotiations will go smoothly and it wanted to “correct the narrative that Chief (Frank) Clark and fellow officers walked out of the School Board meeting or intended any disrespect.”

At the end of Tuesday’s meeting, Clark and a handful of officers left the meeting as the board was considering its motion to ask the department to put the use of cameras on hold.

“Seeing the chief and his officers walk out leads me to question whether they will respect the will of this board,” Rodriguez said Tuesday night during the meeting.

In the release Wednesday, city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said Clark left the meeting only after being advised by the superintendent of the intended outcome of the board’s vote and their resolution.

Clark said Tuesday the police department has its own procedures and policies for maintaining records and wants to ensure it is in compliance with state and federal laws when it comes to keeping records. He also said that logistically, the department is already set up with a recording system that was a “substantial investment” for the city.

“If the school department were to do it, they would be looking at spending the same money to do the same thing with the same exact system we already own and operate,” Clark said. “It would be redundant.”

Some board members and members of the public at Tuesday’s meeting, meanwhile, raised concerns that having the cameras in police custody opens them up to being shared with other law enforcement agencies, like U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which could be a concern for immigrant or undocumented students.

“While the manager and chief feel strongly about continuing good faith efforts toward a resolution over these issues, both realize there are city policies that must be followed,” Grondin said. “At some point, both sides will have to decide whether or not they want to keep the school resource officers in Portland high schools if we aren’t able to come to an agreement.”

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