It's been nearly a year since Jason Washington's death by the Portland State University (PSU) campus cops reignited a call from PSU students, faculty, and community members for the downtown university to disarm its police force. But, despite the February release of a detailed report on the efficacy of PSU's public safety program, PSU leadership says it won't react to the sustained demand to disarm until late fall.
Stephen Percy, interim PSU president, shared this timeframe with the PSU Board of Trustees Thursday morning. “We will come forward with a plan to create the safest campus we can,” Percy told the trustees, according to a PSU press release. It's likely the delay is, in part, prolonged by the abrupt resignation of former PSU President Rahmat Shoureshi in May.
Percy said he wants to gather new input from faculty and students after the 2019-2020 school year begins before recommending any significant changes to campus public safety policy. PSU's fall quarter begins on September 30, meaning its 14 campus police will remain armed for at least 15 months after Washington's death.
Washington, a 45-year-old African American Navy veteran with a license to carry a firearm, was shot in the early hours of Friday, June 29, outside Cheerful Tortoise, an off-campus bar. Washington was trying to break up a fight between his friend and a stranger when he fell onto the sidewalk, causing a gun to fall out of his holster and onto the ground. That’s when a pair of PSU officers saw Washington reach down to retrieve his weapon—and fired nine bullets into his body. Washington died on the scene.
Washington was first person to be fatally shot by a PSU campus police officer since the school's board of trustees voted to arm its police force in July 2015.
A Multnomah County grand jury cleared the officers of any legal wrongdoing in September 2018, but PSU followed through on a promise to hire an outside security firm—Margolis Healy—to evaluate the campus' public safety policies and make recommendations to PSU leadership. In February, four months after holding community discussions around armed police, Margolis Healy published a 209-page report that, while critical of PSU's public safety ordinances, fell short of recommending the campus disarm its police.
The report did little to quiet the continuous demands to disarm campus cops by the PSU student union and other community members, however, who are still waiting for a formal response by PSU's top brass. Several students who attended the Thursday board meeting held signs reading "#DisarmPSU" next to photos of Washington.
Earlier this year, Portland Rep. Diego Hernandez introduced a state bill that would disarm all campus police officers employed by Oregon's largest universities, including PSU and University of Oregon. But the legislation, House Bill 3338, did not move out of committee.
At the same meeting, PSU's Board of Trustees voted to increase undergraduate student tuition by 4.97 percent, starting this fall. This allows PSU to dodge a critical review by a state commission that must approve any tuition increase above 5 percent.