Discussed conversion controversial among students
The university is engaged in internal discussions about creating an armed campus police force.
While the changes would place Portland State on par with other similarly-sized colleges, critics of the idea say it’s merely about arming officers based on flawed research.
Currently, the Campus Public Safety Office operates under a limited authority and does not have jurisdiction outside of university-owned and controlled buildings.
CPSO Chief Phillip Zerzan says that he is not in favor of arming his officers but would prefer reconfiguring the force to meet today’s demands.
The discussed changes would convert some CPSO officers to full police officers by having them undergo an 18-week police academy training, and would expand the scope of many of CPSO’s duties.
According to a Department of Justice report called “Campus Law Enforcement,”which most recently took data from the 2004–05 school year, 93 percent of public universities with 15,000 or more students have sworn police officers, and 86 percent use armed police.
Of the four public universities of that size in Oregon, two use sworn police officers for security: Oregon State University and the University of Oregon. Portland Community College and PSU both remain statistical anomalies.
Campus police departments have only been possible in the state since 2011, when Oregon Senate Bill 405 allowed for their creation.
Currently, CPSO’s “unsworn” officers operate on a more limited authority than police officers. They only have jurisdiction on university-owned and controlled property, which leads to a patchwork of service gaps.
For example, CPSO has no jurisdiction inside the residential portion of the new University Pointe building, which houses approximately 1,000 students. The university does, however, rent classroom space in the building, leaving that space under CPSO’s authority. The Portland Police Bureau must respond to the rest of the building. There are several other service gaps around campus.
This leads to a less sensitive police response to issues, as the PPB does not work within the university infrastructure in the same way as CPSO.Considering reform Zerzan argued CPSO has the ability to respond more quickly and to tailor a police response to the university much more effectively than city police can. He used the example of sexual assault cases, which can occur with the victim and suspect living in the same residence hall.
CPSO can involve multiple university entities and quickly handle the case, while the PPB can have a slower response or fail to communicate effectively with the university.
Zerzan argues that the present construction of CPSO made sense back when the university spanned from Shattuck to Lincoln halls, but with the growth of the university, CPSO needs to be reevaluated.
Zerzan said he would like to see a detox facility, mental health holds, community caretaking and CPSO authority everywhere on campus.
“Change is inevitable,” Zerzan said. “Whether it is driven by thoughtful planning or a disastrous event is in the hands of the community right now.”
In data released to the Vanguard by CPSO, 41 percent of suspects arrested on campus have a police record of violent offenses.
“If we’re asking our public safety officers to make arrests of dangerous felons, we need to train and equip them as police officers,” Zerzan said.
There’s currently no timeline for changes, as discussions are still happening internally. Any changes to CPSO would have to be approved first by PSU President Wim Wiewel, then by the Oregon University System.
Scott Gallagher, director of communications for the university, said he wanted to stress that the university is merely gathering information. “What we’re not trying to do is arm the security guards,” he said.
ASPSU is critical
Tiffany Dollar, student body president at PSU, thinks that much of CPSO’s research is flawed and that CPSO is just pushing to arm its officers.
Dollar examined some of the evidence CPSO provided in a presentation to the Office of Finance and Administration. It cites a Western Oregon University master’s thesis titled, “Support for Arming Public Safety Officers,” written by Andrew Sylleloglou, a current employee of CPSO. Dollar believes many of the findings in the report are biased.
In that survey, 59.6 percent of PSU students “strongly agree” or agree that they would support an armed police force on campus, if it were properly trained. Dollar also questioned the sample size of this poll, since only 250 students were asked.
ASPSU plans to do its own own surveying after its voter registration drive is completed and intends to poll 3,000 students.
Dollar said she will be inviting CPSO to give its presentation alongside ASPSU’s for the polling.
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