Members of the Portland State University Student Union (PSUSU) aren’t happy about a recent campus security report that stops short of recommending that campus police be disarmed—but they also aren’t surprised.
At about 5 pm last Friday, Portland State University (PSU) dropped a 209-page report from Margolis Healy, a campus safety firm founded by a former university police chief. The school commissioned the report after the campus police shooting and death of Jason Washington, a Black man, reignited the student movement calling for Campus Public Safety Office (CPSO) officers to be disarmed.
That report drew several conclusions, including a fair share of criticism of PSU and the CPSO: That the university lacks a cohesive campus safety strategy; that it fails to inform and engage community members on campus safety issues; that its officers could use more racial bias training; and that it ought to employ mental health professionals to work alongside officers. It also found that a majority of PSU community survey respondents want CPSO officers to be disarmed.
“Throughout our review, it was clear to us that there is a significant divide between many in the campus community and the University’s administration,” the report reads. “In our opinion, this sentiment of mistrust is, in part, a product of the national landscape regarding police- community relations. …Specific to the Portland State University community and the City of Portland in general, many people feel betrayed by the University’s decision to provide lethal force weapons to its sworn police officers.”
But on the question of whether CPSO officers should continue carrying guns—a practice that only started in 2015 after a PSU Board of Trustees vote—the report yielded to the status quo.
“[W]e believe, after our extensive research and reflection, that Portland State should retain armed officers as a comportment to its Campus Public Safety Office,” reads the Margolis Healy post.
Kaitlyn Dey, a spokesperson for PSUSU—a leading group in the Disarm PSU movement—said that she and her fellow students were expecting that conclusion.
“We knew that Margolis Healy is a consulting firm made up of former law enforcement officials, especially campus law enforcement officials,” Dey told the Mercury. “So we knew that no matter what they recommended, it was going to revolve around armed police in some aspect.”
There is some common ground between the Margolis Healy report and PSUSU in one area: the idea that mental health professionals should play a role in campus safety. But while the report suggests that mental health professionals accompany officers, the student union would like to see those professionals take more of a lead in de-escalating mental health and drug-related crises.
Dey cited CAHOOTS, a Eugene program that has caught Mayor Ted Wheeler’s attention, as a possible model.
“We’re going to use [CAHOOTS] a lot in our talking points with the university, because we know the city of Portland is looking into trying to adopt a model like that, so that’s something we could see something like that on a smaller level at PSU,” Dey said.
Margolis Healy’s report also touched on PSU’s physical security—that is, the safety level of its buildings and common areas. It suggested taking measures to make PSU more insulated, such as requiring a campus badge for access in more buildings and installing additional security cameras.
For Dey, those recommendations add up to one thing: making the PSU campus less friendly to homeless people and other supposed outsiders. It’s worth noting that PSU is a publicly funded university.
“Because PSU is an urban campus, it should be accessible to the entire community, because there’s a lot of things that happen at PSU that are meant for the entire community to enjoy," Dey said.
PSUSU members plan to bring up these concerns at a March 7 special PSU Board of Trustees meeting that will address the report.