From spring to fall term, in the turbulent year 2020, change has been inevitable, as Portland State constantly adapts to current events. No change has been harder fought for, however, than to Campus Public Safety. With protests to disarm PSU on its office doorstep, and larger protests for greater police reform blocks away, changes to PSU’s own police force were minimal—until now.
Beginning this fall, PSU campus public safety officers will no longer carry firearms while patrolling campus. PSU President Stephen Percy and Chief of Campus Public Safety Willie Halliburton made the announcement on Aug. 13, along with the creation of a new committee to “Reimagine Campus Safety” and change the way PSU approaches safety and policing on campus.
“Over the past few weeks, we have listened to many voices across our campus,” Percy stated in the email announcement. “The calls for change that we are hearing at PSU are ringing out across our nation. We must find a new way to protect the safety of our community, one that works to dismantle systemic racism and promotes the dignity of all who come to our urban campus.”
CPSO will finish the transition to firearm-free patrols before or during the month of October, according to PSU’s new Reimagine Campus Safety website, and will continue to carry less lethal tools such as tasers. While patrols have been disarmed, sworn campus police officers will still have access to guns, kept in the CPSO office, to be used in a “very limited” number of situations, such as an active shooter on campus.
According to Halliburton, while there were multiple discussions with the president and Board of Trustees, the decision for unarmed patrols was ultimately made by CPSO.
“I want to do the right thing, so that CPSO officers are doing the right thing,” Halliburton said, “and the right thing to do is to patrol campus unarmed.”
PSU has stuck to unarmed officers in the past. CPSO wasn’t armed at all until the BOT began to consider a resolution to hire sworn officers in 2014, a decision that has faced controversy since its inception. A collective of students, alumni, faculty and community members advocating to disarm PSU has existed ever since.
The movement was reignited after the death of Jason Washington, who was shot and killed by CPSO officers on June 29, 2018. With protests across the country to reform policing across America, Disarm PSU also held peaceful protests to reform CPSO at PSU.
Much of the significance of the announcement, however, isn’t with the decision itself, but what it means for the future.
“What this does is open up the possibility for students and faculty and the community in general to actually imagine campus safety without the constant threat and presence of a typical armed and militarized police force,” said Olivia Pace, a PSU alumni and organizer with Disarm PSU.
“It is, by itself, a pretty small form, but it’s significant. It moves away from tendencies of the broader culture of policing and sets a precedent for changes farther down the line, that continue to kind of subvert typical like patterns of the constant militarized police presence that we’re used to in the U.S. and that is at the center of the current racial justice movement.”
Reimagining Campus Safety Committee
In order to make more changes to policing on campus, the BOT has also created the Reimagine Campus Safety Committee to make further recommendations for change. While the committee is still in its early stages of development, a steering committee has been chosen, which will have its first meeting next week to create its procedures going forward.
“The perfect storm that we’re in today is that we have a new president, we have a fairly new provost, we have a disarm collective that has been working tirelessly for the last seven years on to address this issue…and then at the same time you had a new chief of [CPSO]” said Jose Coll, a member of the steering committee and dean of the School of Social Work. “I really look forward to working with our community to establish and reimagine campus safety in a way that it hasn’t been done”
“I think moving forward it’s going to be a very interesting conversation to have,” said Motutama Sipelii, another member of the steering committee and president of ASPSU. “Let’s start collaborating, because honestly, moving forward, that’s the only way we’re gonna get stuff done.”
The changes, for now, are small, and for the most part, limited to PSU. Much of the hope that comes with the change is what can come after.
”This is uncharted territory,” said Halliburton, “but it’s the right thing to do, and it’s the right time to do it at PSU. We want to make it right and create a safe path at PSU.”