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Sources: Phoenix SRO removed from school amid 'bad publicity' after dirty needles found

Posted at 5:33 PM, Feb 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-06 20:36:54-05

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Police Department tells ABC15 Arizona that a school resource officer has been reassigned as a patrol officer, after sources say he created 'bad publicity' after dirty needles were found on a school campus.

School Resource Officer Jesse Martinez of Washington Elementary School in Phoenix was removed of his duties as SRO and assigned to a patrol division despite no open investigation into his conduct with the school.

A spokesperson for the Washington Elementary School District said they did not ask Officer Martinez to be reassigned.

ABC15 reached out to the Phoenix Police Department about Martinez being removed from the school.

In a statement they wrote, "the relationships between our schools and each assigned Phoenix Police School Resource Officer is crucial. As these relationships evolve, we as a department work to maintain the integrity of this program and our continued support for our schools."

Officer Martinez, SRO at the school for the past three years, had organized a community cleanup, and highlighted issues of needles and drug paraphernalia that has been found on campus.

However, sources tell ABC15 after photos of the hypodermic needles were posted on social media with a caption of the concerns. We're told Officer Martinez was told twice by the school's principal to remove the photos.

A public post in a cleanup event said, "this clean up is due to the opioid epidemic which is plaguing our community and our country." It went on to say, "this epidemic has made its way onto our school campus and dangerous items are being found at our school."

The school resource officer did not attend the Super Saturday Cleanup, and the principal of the school told us Saturday it was for personal reasons.

One parent at the event told us that they found drug paraphernalia at the cleanup, "we found aluminum foils that were burned, we found two syringe caps, we also found a little baggie with residue in it."

This is not the first community cleanup at that school.

Officer Martinez has voiced concerns of the needles found on campus in the past. ABC15 found a promotional video by the Phoenix Police Department that shows Officer Jesse Martinez in January of 2019 speaking about the needles and a community cleanup event.

"Recently we have had an influx of hypodermic needles found on our campus," Martinez said in the video.

Sources familiar with the case say that the bad publicity hurts attendance numbers.

ABC15 went through data from Arizona's Department of Education and found that Washington Elementary School lost around 100 students in four years.

The district as a whole, has lost around 600 students in five years.

"The kids are in danger," one parent said, "nobody wants to send their kid to a school and have them risk being stuck by a needle."

A spokesperson said in an email that Washington Elementary School has seen a slight decrease, "many factors contribute to this decline – an aging community, cost of living and affordable housing in the area, as well as reduced birth rates. These are factors that are affecting other nearby school districts, as well."

The district also addressed the bad publicity concerns, "the Super Saturday Clean Up event is a day to bring staff, volunteers and community partners together to clean up a large campus. Syringes were never intended to be the focus of the event as it an issue for the community at large."

The school district also said that Washington Elementary school is in a high traffic, urban area of Phoenix.

"In order to be proactive, grounds are swept daily before students arrive to ensure the safety of students and staff," said a spokesperson.