Campus security officers, administrators and students all got a chance to speak their minds about possible changes to the structure of campus safety at a forum last Thursday, as part of an ongoing effort to review the status of safety at PSU.Attendees spoke positively and negatively about possible changes to the Campus Public Safety department, including possibly arming officers with guns or Tasers, and increasing training.
Campus security officers, administrators and students all got a chance to speak their minds about possible changes to the structure of campus safety at a forum last Thursday, as part of an ongoing effort to review the status of safety at PSU.
The forum was the sixth of its kind, and more than 50 people gathered in Smith Memorial Student Union 338 to discuss the structure governing PSU campus security officers. Ron Tammen, director of PSU’s Hatfield School of Government, moderated the forum. Attendees spoke positively and negatively about possible changes to the Campus Public Safety Office, including possibly arming officers with guns or Tasers, and increasing training.
The forum was held by an ad hoc safety committee, formed by Oregon University System Chancellor George Pernsteinerin response to the massacre at Virginia Tech. Pernsteiner ordered all seven public universities in OUS to examine their public safety systems. Portland State may report its finding to the OUS next week regarding what is next for PSU security.
There are currently four options for campus security, Tammen said. It is possible, he said, for the CPSO to remain as is, a system that requires six weeks of basic training and does not allow officers to be armed with guns or Tasers. The committee may also pick and choose from a few of the options, choosing parts of one option and parts of another if they see fit.
One new option is to create an Oregon University System Police Department for all seven public universities in the state, overseen by the OUS Chancellor’s Office. Other options, Tammen said, include creating a PSU Police Department that would not be regulated by OUS. PSU may also contract security to outside forces such as the Portland Police Department or Oregon State Police.
Creating a new police department would increase officer training to 16 weeks and, if deemed appropriate by the Chancellor’s Office, would allow officers to bear arms, Tammen said. He also said that PSU vice president for Finance and Administration Lindsay Desrochers told the committee that budget concerns do not exist.
“We were told not to factor budgetary concerns into our deliberations,” Tammen said. “We haven’t established the budget yet, but we aren’t working under concern of financial constraints, as a means to establish the best system possible.”
Chief of Campus Public Safety Mike Soto said the duties of Campus Public Safety need to be reviewed because the current system of training and codes of conduct don’t reflect the urban campus concerns facing PSU.
“We have a very unique patchwork of public and private interests on campus,” Soto said. “You’ve got classes, and then you’ve got city worker offices and a McDonald’s. Unique threats are posed to an urban campus, and we want to do what’s best to keep that campus safe.”
Questions and concerns
Though security officers and some of the crowd voiced favor for heightened training and weaponry, others voiced concerns about reforming so rapidly.
Lissa Kaufman, coordinator for Student Legal and Mediation Services, said she supports increased security, though arming campus safety officers or an outside contract would create many new concerns than those facing the current system.
“There are good relationships between students and community members and their campus security officers,” Kaufman said. “We’ve done very well without armed officers, and I’m concerned about what arming them could do to the perception of security on campus. Armed police could create distrust of the officers, and we don’t need that at a university.”
A concern Campus Public Safety tactics officer Greg Marks had is the risk posed while serving duty unarmed, as well as the lack of new recruits to Campus Public Safety.
“When you’re a presence of authority, you need to be able to ward off threats that may require arms,” Marks said. “And training is a big concern, mostly because there aren’t many people to train-we only have a small pool of people applying for the job anymore. The job is dangerous, especially since we share borders with a large urban area.”
Greg Baty, a military veteran and PSU student, said he’d prefer that if officers are armed, extra training would become mandatory.
“There’s a lot of difference between just some guy running into a situation with a gun, and someone who knows how to safely and appropriately use their weapon,” Baty said. “Frankly, I’d rather take my protection into my own hands than trust a novice with deadly force.”
What comes next?
Desrochers appointed several administrators and faculty to the ad hoc safety committee, including Tammen, Soto and PSU General Counsel Chip Lazenby, all of whom attended the forum. Tammen said the group will make their report to Desrochers sometime this week. She would then present the findings to OUS.
Tammen said he doesn’t know of Desrochers’ plans for sure, but that he anticipates she will make her recommendation to the Chancellor’s Office within two weeks. Lazenby said one particular hurdle is the difference between each of the campuses in Oregon, though he and the group are determining a solution as rapidly as possible.
“This initiative comes out of the Chancellor’s Office, and there’s a lot of juice behind it,” Lazenby said. “Not one size fits all, obviously, but this process is about establishing a routine and we’re working as quick as we can to create the best available campus safety system for PSU.”