A memo he wrote in May was used by an Oak Ridge City Council member who wrote a controversial letter that has sparked a heated, week-long debate about drugs and violence in the city’s schools.
But Oak Ridge Police Chief Jim Akagi declined to elaborate on the memo on Monday—or discuss how it was used in the letter published last week by Oak Ridge City Council member Trina Baughn. Her letter, which also relied on conversations with current and former school staff members and parents of students, alleged drugs are rampant in many schools, children are at risk of being assaulted, and a “culture of terror” has saturated the system.
Asked for his views on the letter, which was sent to new superintendent Bruce Borchers, Akagi said he couldn’t comment.
His May 9 memo to City Manager Mark Watson said school staff members have, in the past, too often neglected to report potential crimes to the Oak Ridge Police Department in a timely manner or, in some cases, at all. There has been a lack of communication between the ORPD and the school system, and the school staff has been reluctant at best, and in some instances obstructive, in their interaction with ORPD personnel, the chief said.
Baughn said school officials are interfering with and obstructing justice.
Watson, who added his own information to the police chief’s memo regarding specific incidents of concern, said it was written in the context of how to resolve differences and legal issues between the city and schools over the use of school resources officers, or SROs. But he did not directly answer questions about whether he thought the memo had been taken out of context or whether Baughn’s letter, which was published last week in local newspapers, reflected his views.
“You have to be careful that you’re addressing real situations,” Watson said.
The chief’s memo did not include the phrase “culture of terror,” or allege that drugs are rampant and that all children are at risk of being assaulted.
In the memo, Akagi said school officials have attempted to handle disciplinary matters “in house,” and when the ORPD requested information for criminal inquiries, the requests were denied.
“The ability of an SRO or other ORPD components to solve crimes are severely impaired, sometimes irreparably so, when crimes are not reported,” Akagi said. “Evidence is lost, witness statements are altered as memories fade, and suspects sometimes disappear.”
City and school officials said they are working together to resolve their differences.
“We are actively working with the city and the police chief to try to develop better communication to fix some of the things that have been difficult,” Oak Ridge Board of Education member Angi Agle said this weekend. “Spreading this out in the press is detrimental to those efforts.”
“As to police matters and the school administration, we have a new superintendent, and let me assure you these matters are being addressed,” Oak Ridge Mayor Tom Beehan said during a Monday afternoon press conference at Oak Ridge High School. “We need open communication and calm discourse, and we need to allow the new superintendent and city manager to systematically work on these issues.”
Since school security is involved, details will not be released publicly, Beehan said.
“As in most security matters, we see no need to broadcast our plans to the world,” he said.
Borchers started in Oak Ridge on June 18, and after Monday’s press conference, he said he is doing a “lot of listening.” He is also meeting with Akagi, other city officials, and school administrators and teachers.
“Great organizations always reflect on what they’re doing and try to get better,” Borchers said.
Baughn said she is ready to “move forward with solutions,” including allowing the police to do their job, providing physical security to keep people out of schools who aren’t supposed to be there, and creating a trusting, caring environment where people can speak out.
Steve Reddick, a history teacher at Jefferson Middle School and co-president of the Oak Ridge Education Association, said administrators and teachers take discipline issues seriously, professionally, and conscientiously. He said student safety, school security, student achievement, school funding, and school excellence are all tied together, and they aren’t helped when school staff or other city stakeholders are “demonized, misrepresented, or when situations are presented without context or consideration of all the facts.
“Together, we need to look at the big picture, keep seeking positive, proactive solutions to our problems, and keep Oak Ridge a top-performing school system and the pride of this community,” Reddick said.
Note: This story was last updated at 10:50 a.m.
Sam Hopwood says
Chief Akagi’s comments in his memo and City Manager Watson’s additional comments concerning the school system’s lack of cooperation should be an eye opener to anyone. To be in denial over that to protect an image is staggering.
Incidentally why are you afraid to use your full name Jack. Are you a keyboard coward?
David Allred says
I don’t think mud-slinging is the answer here…. back on topic however, I think people under-estimate the difficulty of establishing a memorandum of agreement. They usually only appear after having been ground up for months on end in the attorney mill.
I am more concerned with the accusation that an apparent offering to conduct a risk assessment was rebuffed. I hope the city response touches on this topic today. I also hope that the school system has copies of both internal and independently conducted safety audits of their facilities, coupled with survey data from both faculty and students on the topic of school safety. Having this material in hand will go a long way in dispelling the rumors and accusations.
If these items are not available with the slide of a file cabinet drawer, it’s time to do extended professional development. I used to conduct a few training sessions at educational safety expos & am more than willing to help ORS if they need it. That’s an offer I have extended more than once in the last ten years.
I do have more information specifically on risk assessments
In her letter to Bruce Borchers, Trina Baughn said the Oak Ridge Board of Education demanded that the city provide an officer in every school while simultaneously declining the police chief’s offer to conduct the risk assessment needed to identify facility and policy vulnerabilities. This occurred shortly after the Sandy Hook school shootings, Baughn said.
In my interviews this past weekend, BOE member Angi Agle said the schools did not refuse a security assessment. She said interim superintendent Bob Smallridge had been working on it with the police chief. “We welcome that expertise,” Agle said.
David Allred says
Thanks, John. That’s the kind of information we in the public need.
Jason Allison says
Disclosure of your full name is required
Please use your full name when posting here.
Denny Phillips says
Mr. Huotori, first and last name rule please.
I have removed the comment in question and will send the commenter a friendly reminder to use first and last name.