Much debate has taken place over the past several months about whether or not it would be useful to provide Campus Public Safety Officers with weapons. Arming officers, many people argue, would be an unnecessary and excessive step that would not increase the overall security of Portland State’s campus.
Another common point raised is the worry that officers will take advantage of being armed to exert more control over students and profile people of color, leading to tensions and violence. The recent killings and protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and other locations across America are painful and sobering indications of the dangers of having armed police.
There are, however, a number of reasons why allowing campus security to have and use firearms would be beneficial, and why arming PSU’s CPSO ought to be considered.
By letting campus police possess arms, people planning on committing crimes on campus would be more likely to reconsider their attempts, and the knowledge that campus officers now regularly carry weapons may discourage criminals from approaching campus. For stopping criminals and intimidating them sufficiently to stop them during crimes in progress, guns would be extremely effective.
With weapons, officers would feel less threatened when dealing with crimes, could perform their jobs more successfully and might also be able to provide more assistance to people in need. If used appropriately and effectively, weapons for CPSO would be a positive and useful addition to the security of the university.
With recent increased awareness and scrutiny on police brutality, it is absolutely vital and proper that people be concerned about how much power and resources police are allowed to have. Not allowing police to have weapons, however, is not the most effective solution to preventing cases of injustice committed by police. To begin with, campus security can be provided with a certain trial period in which some officers carry arms, and if no incidents occur over a period of several months, gradually more officers can be equipped with guns.
All officers who receive guns must also receive authorized training in handling weapons, so that the danger of violent incidents is minimized. The university administration and CPSO must maintain vigilance over behavior of officers and receive feedback from students and other members of the PSU community on how well the trial period is proceeding and whether any changes have taken place.
It is also crucial for the university and the city of Portland to take any reported instances of police abusing power seriously. The public should keep observations of police and publicize police brutality cases, and they should fight for efforts to have officers disciplined, rather than preventing them from having weapons that can stop crimes and stop criminals from further action. Body cameras may be a useful tool for overseeing police actions, as the experiences of some communities that have adopted body cameras indicates.
Letting campus police wield guns may be a tremendous step in power for the university and may appear to be an unwelcome decision, but could also bring some tangible benefits to PSU.