The newly acquired ’99 Ford Victoria, gleaming in fresh white paint with wide side stripes of gold and blue, sits resplendently before the Campus Public Safety Office for all to admire. Its blue and gold door replica of the CPSO officer badges proclaims a new era in campus public safety.
Things have changed since Michael Soto took over as interim chief of CPSO last fall after the previous director, John Fowler, departed for a job in Seattle.
The department had been seen by some as divided in the interests of its officers, some wanting more of an emphasis on police work, others more oriented to public service. Soto has come down solidly on the side of running CPSO as a service agency and continues to move his office in that direction.
This week, Soto was on vacation and he deputized one of his sergeants, Craig Whitten, to outline the direction of the office as it now is developing.
“Chief Soto wants to mesh law enforcement with public service,” Whitten emphasized. But, he pointed out, the two concepts go hand in hand, since law enforcement is public service at the bottom line.
Soto has considerably reorganized the way his officers cover the campus. Previously the force was divided into three shifts: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. and 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. Soto has overlapped the shifts to provide more adequate personnel and state of readiness at critical times.
The force now works according to a six-shift schedule: 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., 1 p.m. to 11 p.m., 2 p.m. to midnight, 4 p.m. to midnight, 9 p.m. to 7 a.m., and 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. This makes some shifts 10 hours, and on these shifts, the officers work a four-day week.
“The purpose is to serve the community with adequate coverage at all times,” Whitten said.
Soto also has revised his command position for faster action and greater efficiency. He promoted Casey Kanekoa to the rank of lieutenant. Kanekoa is in charge of all operations of the department and also takes charge of one shift. Soto expects to appoint another sergeant soon.
Whitten, with 11 years service with CPSO, was promoted to sergeant at the beginning of the year. The other sergeant is Robert McCleary. Sergeants previously were considered management. As a result, when the order came down last year to cut management for budgetary reasons, one sergeant had to be laid off.
That situation is now changed to the benefit of the sergeants. A sergeant is now called a “lead worker” and holds classified status. That means the officer is protected under union contract. Kanekoa, however, is management.
Like all PSU departments, budgetary concerns plague the Campus Public Safety Office. Soto currently manages a force of 13 and is missing two officers temporarily. One, Renae Nylander, is on maternity leave. The other, Rocky Bixby, is with his Oregon National Guard unit in Iraq.
The office operates a 24-hour dispatch, with four dispatchers. It is currently interviewing for another dispatcher. One of the current dispatchers has taken a job as an officer with University of Portland.
To help fill any service gaps, Soto has been appointing temporary officers. They do not have the power to arrest that regular officers do and they wear a different uniform, lighter blue than the dark blue of regular officers. Their period of service appointment is six months.
“They give us extra sets of eyes and ears,” Whitten said. “They do service calls, give directions, things like that. They do no enforcement work.”
Whitten pointed out that much of the need for CPSO help does not involve crime at all but straight public service. These needs can include battery starts, door unlocks, medical assistance and escort service.
CPSO works closely with the Portland Police Bureau. Police may be called upon to do specialized work, such as fingerprint collection. But Whitten sees a considerable difference between Portland police officers and CPSO officers.
“They don’t have the time to spend with the public that we do,” he said. “It’s a different perspective. We’re a little more one on one. But we ask them for assistance all the time.”
Portland police also ask CPSO for assistance, when they get a call that involves the campus.
Whitten emphasized that in crime investigations, CPSO maintains that respect for the victim is a paramount concern. Investigative activities are part of the job but not the overriding emphasis.
“We have all the necessary technology to totally serve the community,” Whitten said. He added the past is history so far as the present officer force is concerned.
“We are building for the future,” he said. “As a unit, we want to work as a team. I believe we are working as a team. I believe we have ideas for public service, for providing service as an all-encompassing team.”
Part of the department’s new look is the acquisition of the Ford Victoria. As it goes into service, an unmarked car will be retired. That leaves a fleet of two cars, the other being a Chevrolet Caprice.
The CPSO office is open around the clock at 1939 S.W. Broadway at College Street. The emergency number is 503-725-4404 and the non-emergency number is 503-725-4407.
Emergency help may be summoned by calling from one of the blue light kiosks located throughout the campus. Activating one of these puts the caller in immediate contact with CPSO.
Whitten echoes Soto in believing CPSO is providing a continually improving service in the face of the budgetary constraints that affect every department on campus.
“You always think you can’t have too many people here,” Whitten said. “I think that’s the case with every agency. But the officers here are for people and they know what they’re doing.”