Oregonian: Opinion — Much more to Portland State University’s safety plan than armed officers
Author: Stephen Percy
Posted: October 22, 2019

To read the original, visit the Oregonian.

I announced a new approach to campus safety at Portland State University this month. The fatal shooting in June 2018 of Jason Washington by PSU officers was tragic, and it caused us to seriously reassess how we provide campus safety.

We know that the well-being of our students, faculty and staff is vital to our university, and safety also is crucial to the thousands of visitors who come to campus for events, activities and other pursuits.

The new approach is the culmination of months of review. I met with leaders from student government, faculty, staff and the community. I reviewed a series of reports on campus safety. The analysis clearly demonstrated the varied concerns about retaining an armed campus police force as part of our larger safety plan. I take those concerns seriously and realize that in our diverse community, safety means different things to different people.

Under our plan, we will use three types of personnel as part of our overall safety system. We will continue to have 10 sworn and armed campus police officers. These trained and certified officers have the authority to investigate and respond to crimes on campus such as sexual assaults or threats of violence.

We will expand the number of unarmed safety officers and supervisors from six to 10 officers who will respond to most calls on campus, provide safety escorts 24 hours a day and offer first aid and CPR in emergencies. We also are creating a new student ambassador program to assist students, staff, faculty and community members and alert campus security personnel to potential safety concerns.

Our overall approach to safety is based on the premise that creating a safe campus requires a holistic approach, one in which all members of the campus community have a role. Our plan calls for the following elements:

  • Training: In addition to state certification requirements, our police personnel will receive extensive field training specific to working with the PSU community. All officers receive training in de-escalation techniques, multicultural competency and how to respond to mental health crises.
  • Oversight: The University Public Safety Oversight Committee made up of students, faculty, staff and community members will have expanded responsibility to review public safety operations and procedures as well as to receive and examine complaints involving use-of-force incidents.
  • Building safety: All of our residence halls and major buildings have electronic access security at entrances. Not all buildings require ID cards to enter during the day as we are a public university that welcomes our community, but we are developing individualized plans for all buildings to manage access. We also are assessing the expansion of more campus lighting at night.
  • Mental health: In addition to officer training on how to respond to people in crisis, officers will coordinate with an existing team of professionals at PSU that provide support services and crisis intervention. We also are exploring partnerships with community organizations to identify innovative strategies to assist people who are on our campus and demonstrate a need for support.

We believe the comprehensive nature of this plan will make our campus safer not only for students, faculty and staff but also for visitors we welcome every day at Portland State.