A new era in campus security

The Portland State University Board of Trustees on Dec. 11 approved a plan to enhance campus safety and authorize an armed police force on campus to augment PSU’s current unarmed security staff.

The board voted 11 to 2 to approve the plan, specifying that PSU will not deploy police officers until after an implementation committee made up of administration, faculty, staff and students spend the next six months setting guidelines for the new safety plan, including hiring practices, specialized officer training regarding the PSU campus culture, diversity and more.

The university also will form an ongoing Public Safety Oversight Committee, which will monitor the new public safety department and address complaints about its policies and the actions its officers.

One of the reasons PSU considered hiring its own police officers was that they would know the campus culture better than Portland Police, which would help them in dealing with emergencies. 

"The board decision gives us an opportunity to develop a campus police organization that is rooted in our values of diversity, engagement and accountability," President Wim Wiewel said after the meeting. 

Oregon Health and Science University, Oregon State University and the University of Oregon already have an armed police force on their campuses.

Board members Margaret Kirkpatrick and Gale Castillo acknowledged that the discussion around creating a campus police force has been difficult in the wake of deaths at the hands of police officers in Ferguson, Mo, and New York City. But they said PSU has an opportunity to develop a campus police organization that reflects the values of the campus community.

Board members agreed they will scrutinize details of a new campus safety plan in six months before deploying armed officers. Under the plan, PSU will phase in the hiring of an estimated 12 police officers over a three-year period. 

The decision by the board to authorize armed police officers was the culmination of an 18-month process that started in Spring 2013 when President Wiewel established the President’s Task Force on Campus Safety. The task force, made up of a broad representation of the PSU community, spent six months studying safety on campus, then recommended having access to armed officers. It cited PSU’s rapid growth to 29,000 students, it’s permeable border with the city and the lack of resources the Portland Police Bureau has in dealing with dangerous incidents on campus.

The resolution to adopt the plan was supported by all board members except for Maude Hines and Swati Adarkar.

The proposal has been the subject of debate in numerous large and small meetings throughout the fall, including an all-campus forum in October, three public meetings of the board’s Special Committee on Campus Safety and outreach meetings to faculty and student groups.  An estimated 100 people attended Thursday’s board meeting, including members of the activist group Don’t Shoot Portland who staged a “die-in” similar to one held Wednesday at the state capitol to protest police shootings throughout the country.

Student protesters at the meeting held placards with anti-police messages and took turns addressing the board during a 30-minute comment period. Faculty Senate President Robert Liebman also spoke against the police proposal.

The university seeks continued input from the campus community while the details of the new campus safety plan are being formulated in the coming months. Click here for links to an online feedback form, the resolution that was signed Dec. 11, background on the campus safety measures and frequently asked questions.

-- By John Kirkland

Photos from the Dec. 11 Board of Trustees meeting:
(Front page slider) Student Leona Kindermann speaks out against the campus police proposal. (Above) ASPSU Vice President Rayleen McMillan and President Eric Noll address the board.