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Oregon Campuses Ramp Up on Armed Officers

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

 

UOPD

UOPD Sergeants Michael Matchulat (left) and Brad Petrie. Photo: UOPD

More armed campus officers will hit Oregon universities this fall and more could be on the way. 

Oregon Health & Science University will launch its own police force with 25 officers on Sept. 15, the second school to take advantage of new Oregon laws allowing colleges and the Oregon Health & Science University to establish and arm their own police forces.

Before the new laws, Oregon universities had to contract with local and state police to handle campus crime. They also had their own, unarmed security guards. Universities are now looking to create their own police departments by either hiring police or getting their staff trained to be certified police officers. 

Portland State University is mulling the idea of establishing its own police department and will hold an open forum Oct. 7 to get feedback, PSU Director of Communications Scott Gallagher said. 

From poor police response times to rising sexual assault cases, campus officials in Oregon say they need to have their own police forces to protect students. And with campus shootings like Virginia Tech and the recent Seattle Pacific University shooting, campuses across the nation are looking to improve security. 

But some worry about the message armed campus security sends. 

“I think anytime anyone’s armed there’s always a disparity there. It kind of strikes some fear there with students that there is more danger around us,” said Natalie Quirk, spokeswoman for Associated Students of the University of Oregon. “I think students are having a little bit of confusion as to why they are being armed.

"Students are going to be more fearful as to why they are armed. Is the campus really that unsafe?” 

The U of O lobbied the legislature in 2011 to allow universities to have their own police forces. The law passed and in 2013 the school got permission from the Board of Higher Education to train and arm its own cops. Those officers started patrolling the Eugene campus last year. Oregon Health and Science University, which is outside the state university system, lobbied for its own law that was passed in 2013. 

Police Shortfall

In the past, the Eugene Police Department would respond to alledged crimes on the University of Oregon campus. But as the school grew, the strain on the municipal police became too great, said Kelly McIver, spokesman for the University of Oregon Police Department. 

“They were not able to sort of be here as much and put as high a priority on things,” he said. 

Portland State’s Presidential Task Force on Campus Safety recommended that the university create and arm its own police force, Gallagher said. A final vote on the issue is expected in December. 

“What that looks like and the implementation of that has yet to be determined,” Gallagher said.  “The goal is to essentially create a police force that is trained to the level of a city police force.” 

The large size of PSU’s campus, about 30,000 students, means there is a greater need for police coverage, Gallagher said. 

“We’re bigger than most cities in Oregon,” he said. 

At OHSU, 25 sworn and armed officers will start patrolling the campus 24-7. 

The university took action in part because of poor response time by the Portland Police Bureau, Police Chief Greg Moawad said. Response times average between seven and 14 minutes, but the average shooting happens in five to seven minutes, he said. The Virginia Tech Massacre, in which a gunman shot and killed 32 people, took just over seven minutes. 

The university also wanted to have officers who specialize in dealing with people who have mental health issues, Moawad said . 

“It’s the type of thing where, how do we best provide for our community?” he said. 

Public Perception

The introduction of more armed campus cops comes as the news has been dominated by headlines in Ferguson, Mo. where the police shooting of an unarmed black man spurred riots and raised national suspicion about excessive force. 

“Police brutality is the topic that’s running around,” Quirk said. “The timing, I think, will kind of work against the new idea of having police officers be armed.” 

The University of Oregon will have 15 sworn officers who carry weapons, but four are still in the certification and training phase, McIver said. The officers carry standard law enforcement weaponry: a Glock-brand .45-caliber sidearm, model 21 Gen 4, handcuffs, batons and pepper spray on their duty belts. 

The school still has 10, unarmed, non-sworn campus security officers. 

There is confusion on the U of O campus about why the school needs its own armed officers and how to react with them as opposed to how the students would react to campus security officers, Quirk said . 

“You would think it would be a safer community than one that would have to be armed,” she said. “Students wouldn’t be expecting the UOPD to be armed because there really isn’t a lot of reasons.” 

The goal of the police force is to use strategic disengagement and other forms of nonforceful methods to resolve situations, Moawad said .  

“Peaceful resolution. That’s our end goal,” he said. “The firearm is a tool to give our officer in case those other methods fail.” 

 

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