Campus on edge over letter terrorism

John Fowler, director of Campus Public Safety, didn’t blink Monday when handed what could have been a suspicious piece of mail sent to the university.

It was same old same old to Fowler, who has seen an increase in requests for service since the terrorist tragedy of a month ago.

“As the nation responds to issues associated with the Sept. 11 events, we have seen calls for service increase,” Fowler said.

But so far, the work of his 13-officer force has continued to contend with the “usual” infractions: theft, drug abuse, liquor law violations and unlawful trespass.

Fowler and his officers remain alert and sensitive to potential terrorism threats. The Monday event began when Officer Greg Marks handed Fowler a carefully secured clear plastic bag containing a Federal Express envelope. A campus office had received the envelope somewhat unexpectedly.

The return address showed a corporation familiar to the addressee but no mail had been expected from this sender. A phone call to the sender drew a busy signal, so the addressee played it safe and turned over the envelope to Campus Public Safety.

Fowler sent it over to Chuck Cooper, environmental health and safety consultant with the Facilities office. The envelope was opened in a secure airtight glass container. Examination revealed a recommendation letter for a person applying for a job.

With even U.S. Senator Tom Daschle receiving an anthrax mailing and a child reported exposed to a mailed anthrax infection, incoming mail has become a source of anxiety nationwide.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden’s office is currently not opening any incoming mail. Up to now no such threats have materialized at Portland State University, but Campus Public Safety remains alert.

In the meantime, officers continue to deal with familiar crime problems. Fowler has just released the printed version of campus crime statistics for the year 2000, as required by federal law. The report compares university-related crime last year to 1999 and 1998.

“Theft and larceny continue to be the high point of crime activity,” Fowler said. The 2000 total was 216 cases. These broke down into 178 on university-owned property, 18 in residence halls, one in a non-campus building and 38 in public property in the campus area.

This total represented a significant improvement compared to 1999, when 367 cases were recorded. Going back to 1993, the 216 case total was lower than any year other than the 187 of 1998. Reporting has become more elaborate in the past two years, as required by changes in federal law.

“We used to do the campus only,” Fowler said. “The increases in numbers are showing because of increased reporting requirements. We now are required to report the adjacent public property.”

Theft reporting is not required by federal law, but is included because it is the most persistent form of crime at the university.

Liquor law violations in 2000 totaled 96, with 36 arrests. In 1999, the total of violations was 26, in 1998 one. Drug abuse violations totaled 113 with 73 arrests. The 1999 total was 50 and in 1998 was 22.

A new breakout appeared in hate crimes. In earlier years, all types were lumped together. For 2000, they were broken down into race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity and disability. Only one of these categories, race, showed violations, with three.

Forcible sex offenses totaled four, two of them in residence halls. Two others were reported at off-campus student sponsored activities. Non-forcible sex offenses were listed at 11.

Fowler advocated what he called “The common sense approach for security.” He advised against the NIMBY attitude, that it can’t happen to me.

“Everyone needs to be vigilant about personal safety,” he said. “You need to take responsibility for yourself and your own property.”

When Fowler took over the office in May, 1994, Campus Public Safety had eight officers. It now has 13, three of them women. Three of the positions are grant positions under the Bill Clinton plan to put 100,000 more police officers on the streets of the nation. When the grant positions expire in September, 2002, the university has agreed to fund them.

Fowler said his office continues to maintain tight relationships with the Portland Police Bureau, the university’s environmental safety office and materials handling operations.

Copies of the annual Public Safety Report are available on request at the headquarters, 1939 S.W. Broadway. The pamphlet also includes institutional policies concerning campus public safety. The report may be accessed online at