Armed campus police officers will stay at Portland State University (PSU).
That’s one key takeaway from a new campus safety plan, announced Thursday, that looks a lot like PSU’s old safety plan—a plan that largely wasn’t followed through on after the university’s board of trustees voted to arm campus police officers in 2014.
The new safety plan comes over a year after the death of Jason Washington, a Black man who was shot by PSU campus police officers outside an off-campus bar in June 2018. Washington’s death sparked outrage among many PSU students, and reignited a campus movement calling for the disarming of campus police officers. It also prompted university administration to hire private security consultancy firm Margolis Healy to review PSU’s security practices, and address the question of whether they should include armed officers.
Margolis Healy didn’t recommend disarming campus police—but it did find that after deciding to arm some campus officers in 2014, PSU failed to carry out a comprehensive campus safety plan. That plan included officer sensitivity and bias training, close police oversight from the University Public Safety Oversight Committee (UPSOC), and regular opportunities to review safety protocol and seek PSU community feedback.
“The board of trustees made many implicit and explicit recommendations [in 2014],” said Steven Healy, CEO of Margolis Healy, at a board meeting in March. “Many of those recommendations were not fully implemented. Some were ignored.”
The new campus safety plan, announced by PSU Interim President Stephen Percy at a board meeting Thursday, comes with many of those same recommendations: enhanced oversight, increased training, and solutions for dealing with mental health and addiction problems that aren’t police-centric. And this time around, Percy told reporters after the board meeting, there will be follow-through.
“There was some training that may not have been done as systematically or fully as possible [after the 2014 decision],” Percy said, “but those are the things we’re doubling down on moving forward.”
When asked by a reporter why officer training that might have prevented Washington's death had not already occurred, Percy answered that “some of the training has been happening, but I’m not sure you can train for every single event you can have.”
Percy will now have direct oversight of PSU’s Campus Public Safety Office (CPSO), a role previously designated for the university vice president. UPSOC will closely monitor officer training and review schedules, and collect data on officer use of force. The campus safety plan also calls for a formal review process every three years.
“The board will ask the president to report back to us regularly on the implementation of this plan,” said Vice Chair Margaret Kirkpatrick at Thursday’s board meeting.
The campus safety plan also includes some new ideas. PSU will increase its number of unarmed officers from six to 10 (there are already 10 positions for armed officers, though only six are currently filled). Ten hired “student safety ambassadors” will be responsible for interacting with campus guests, providing safety escorts, and alerting campus officers to unsafe situations on campus. And the university will review how campus infrastructure—things like lighting, building access, and walkway accessibility—can be improved from a safety standpoint.
Before Percy introduced the plan, Kirkpatrick acknowledged that “no single approach will satisfy every member of our community.” That became clear as students, many of them holding signs calling for disarming officers and boycotting PSU, booed and hissed while Percy described the plan.
Several students admonished Percy and the board for not disarming campus police during a public comment period. Olivia Pace, a former student who graduated in June and has been part of the movement to disarm campus police since 2015, responded to Percy’s hope that the new plan will improve trust between students and the administration.
“It’s not going to happen,” Pace said, “as long as we feel like Black and brown people can be killed by a police officer with a gun on this campus.”
Washington’s wife, Michelle, also spoke during the public comment period. The couple’s three daughters sat on either side while she talked through tears.
“Our whole world has been destroyed,” she told the PSU board. “These students back here told you years ago that this would happen, and you didn’t listen. … I feel like no one’s listening, and nothing’s going to change, and this is going to happen to someone else.”
Members of PSU’s student union handed out “Boycott Portland State University” flyers after the meeting, urging people to “spend their money anywhere but here.”
The board was largely supportive of Percy’s plan, saying it balanced the need for security with the concerns of PSU students and faculty. One trustee asked Percy what he thought the largest hurdle will be in carrying out the plan.
“The biggest challenge,” Percy said, “is to pull us all together.”