PSU under the gun

The Portland State Board of Trustees, of which only a single person out of 15 is a student, has decided that we are to have an armed police force to replace our currently unarmed campus security. While I consider this move to arm and christen a law-enforcement organization specific to the PSU campus to be poorly-timed, ill-conceived, out of touch with the needs of the student body, a poor use of university funds, a wonderful opportunity for future “excessive use of force” litigation and fertile ground for the wrongful death of supposed “criminals,” the board has determined that it is a good use of the university’s money, despite student and faculty outcry. It seems as though a governing body, with no incentive to cater to the will of the students they govern, will, in fact, make decisions that are not in the interests of those students.

Transitioning the Campus Public Safety Office into an armed police force might actually make students safer if it was the case that students were routinely victimized by violent, weapon-toting aggressors, but the data shows that is not a problem many students at PSU face.

According to the Campus Security & Fire Report published online yearly through the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act of 1998, the most common crimes perpetrated on the PSU campus are burglaries and drug crimes. Reported rates (though not necessarily the best indicator) of violent crimes such as physical or sexual assault are very low in comparison to those of burglary or drug crimes.

So I have a question: For which one of these crimes would a gun be the best solution? While a victim might feel as though two to the chest might solve the problem, the justice system, though imperfect, has a solution for these perpetrators and it does not come at the barrel of a gun. Therefore, it would make sense to give a campus police force the power to prosecute perpetrators of violent crime and bring them to justice, but that doesn’t necessitate the use or possession of firearms.

According to a report made by the PSU Task Force on Public Safety, one way in which PSU could further the safety of students is by having an on-campus police force who might have the ability to, independent of the Portland Police Bureau, apply for search warrants, involuntarily detox individuals under the influence, perform a mental health hold on an individual and follow up on cases of sexual assault. These powers do not require the use or possession of a firearm and I really must wonder why the armament agenda has been pushed so much in the name of safety when no use for the thing is to be found.

There is one thing I believe unites all people—they feel uncomfortable when surrounded by people, no matter how well-intentioned, who openly carry lethal weapons. It doesn’t matter what uniform the carrier of the weapon is wearing so long as they are allowed to carry a weapon that, upon the depression of a trigger, could end my life. That is an irreconcilable power differential which will make me feel unsafe—and that’s without any racial profiling thrown into the mix.

Luckily the Board of Trustees has taken the decision out of the hands of students, so it doesn’t make any sense to appeal to the gods of logic, self-governance, good taste and ethical use of money for some sort of solution. Instead, let us consider pragmatic approaches to prevent our newly mandated police force from murdering innocent people with impunity—something the American police force at large has yet to tackle in a meaningful way.

Here is what I propose:

1. All PSU officers must wear body cameras at all times. All interactions with students or the public must be recorded by body camera. Any officer who does not follow this, depending on the action taken while the camera is off and reported by witnesses, should be penalized. If an officer discharges their weapon with the camera off it is grounds for immediate termination and legal action, as they should not be considered on-duty unless the camera is operational.

2. All firearm holsters should have a silent alarm that informs the Campus Public Safety Office immediately upon the unholstering of the firearm, along with which officer unholstered their weapon and where they are. In this way, the safety office may inform the campus quickly for lockdown purposes and will be able to best help the Portland police in the case of an emergency.

3. Any officer permitted to use a firearm on duty must maintain a regular relationship with a mental health professional (at least one meeting per month). If the officer is seen as unfit for duty in any way, then they should be relieved of their weapon or post if deemed appropriate.

4. Except in cases of violent or sexual crime, the PSU student government should have final say in whether or not cases involving PSU students should move to the judicial system. Any tickets or fines issued by campus police must first be approved by student government.

5. Any money received through tickets and fines issued by the campus police force must go to a fund completely outside the sphere of influence of student government, campus police or the Board of Trustees to ensure the interests in making money through punitive measures do not incentivize harassment of the student body. Seeing as though the student body has thus far had no say in the decision to arm campus officers, students should not be punished for its existence, nor should the campus police’s existence be justified through punitive moneymaking schemes.

The issue comes down to a few simple things. People who are trained with firearms will find a time in which to use them. Crimes that are committed at PSU do not necessitate the use of firearms, nor would the availability of firearms help campus police do their jobs any more efficiently than if they were fitted with less-than-lethal options. When a campus police officer shoots someone (it’s going to happen sooner or later), there will be major costs involved; even if the shooting is justified, these costs will affect students and student tuition rates, yet will not affect those who made this decision for us.

The costs of implementing and maintaining a properly armed and accountable police force will be a constant drain on university resources. In order to offset this cost, officers will likely have to issue fines and citations which will directly affect students and faculty. We might be able to afford a better trained and more capable campus safety, but guns we just cannot afford.