Campus public safety officers will not begin patrolling campus without firearms this fall.
In August, the university announced plans to disarm its campus security after years of activism from students and faculty calling on the university to do so. The initial announcement in August stated officers would begin unarmed patrols this fall. However, due to staffing and administrative challenges, that goal will not be met, which means for the time being, officers will continue to patrol campus with guns.
CPSO Chief Willie Halliburton released a video message alongside an email from Portland State President Stephen Percy outlining their reasoning for delaying unarmed patrols on Oct. 27.
Part of the Reimagine Campus Safety plan being developed by Percy and Halliburton—which includes unarmed patrols—requires a minimum of at least two officers be on duty during every shift. Due to the recent retirements of two sworn officers and the resignation of a third, that requirement cannot be met.
The shift to unarmed patrols also requires updating hundreds of policies and procedures relating to CPSO, and until those updates have been legally reviewed and approved by the University Public Safety Oversight Committee (UPSOC), officers will remain armed.
The university is also working with the City of Portland and the Portland Police Bureau on ways for those organizations to support CPSO when they begin unarmed patrols.
“The delay is due to low staff numbers, but also due to delays in negotiating a new operating agreement with the Portland Police Bureau and rewriting 500 pages in policies and procedures,” said PSU Media Director Christina Williams. “We are undertaking what amounts to a cultural shift in policing.”
Percy and Halliburton also emphasized the magnitude of disarming campus safety officers.
“We are unaware of any other police agency in the nation that has shifted from armed to unarmed patrols by sworn officers,” Percy stated. “Agencies across the country are contacting us wanting to know how we are going about creating this new reality.”
“This is groundbreaking work,” Halliburton said. “I have been and will continue to be transparent about the process of transferring and transforming my agency into one that leaves firearms behind.”
An additional reason cited for delaying unarmed patrols was the recent vandalism of the CPSO office during protests on Oct. 11.
“On Oct. 11, the campus public safety office was severely damaged,” Halliburton said in the video message. “Our officers and our staff inside were traumatized. For me, I take this personal. Someone has to show what peace looks like. You cannot continue to fight aggression with aggression.”
At this time, it is unclear when campus safety officers will be able to begin patrolling unarmed.
“We haven’t set a new date, but have committed to be transparent about the progress,” Williams said. “Recruiting and hiring takes time. It’s a fluid process. And once they have been hired, officers new to police work must complete four months of training from Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training before they can patrol. That adds to our timeline.”
A virtual town hall event is being organized for mid to late November, where Halliburton, Percy and a representative or two from UPSOC and/or the Reimagine Public Safety Committee will answer questions from attendees about public safety at PSU. The official date has not yet been announced, but is expected to be announced this week, according to Williams.
Percy and Halliburton both stated that transparency in the process of disarming officers is paramount. Percy stated in the interest of transparency, PSU will continue to release progress reports, as well as online updates regarding the hiring process of new officers.
An additional announcement was made by Halliburton on Oct. 29, stating that, beginning Nov. 1, CPSO would suspend 24/7 officer patrols on campus. Instead, officers will patrol between 7 a.m.–10 p.m. Monday–Friday. According to Halliburton, the change is due to the low amount of officers on staff. PSU dispatch officers will still be available 24/7 and will route emergency calls to the Portland Police Bureau.
Additionally, Halliburton stated sworn CPSO police officers will provide 24 hour coverage on Nov. 3–4 due to anticipated protests related to the election. Non-sworn officers—who patrol unarmed—will also provide additional coverage.
According to Williams, the anticipated protests on election day played no role in the decision to delay unarmed patrols.
The decision to begin disarming CPSO came after years of activism from the campus community, mainly from the group Disarm PSU, which formed in 2014 after the PSU Board of Trustees passed a resolution to hire sworn officers, who carry guns.
According to Disarm PSU’s website: “We are concerned for students, faculty, staff, community partners and alumni of Portland State University. Our request is simple, we are calling for the immediate action to disarm campus security on our campus.”
In 2018, campus security shot and killed Navy veteran Jason Washington, a Black man, during a scuffle outside of a bar near campus. His death reignited Disarm PSU’s activism, but the university chose to keep armed officers.
When Black Lives Matter protests swept the nation in 2020 after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Disarm PSU experienced another resurgence of energy. After multiple protests outside of the CPSO office and letters to the BOT from nearly every corner of the university, President Percy and Chief Halliburton announced that PSU would begin the process of disarming CPSO.
“Over the past few weeks we have listened to many voices across our campus,” Percy stated in August. “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 eliminates systemic racism and promotes the dignity of all who come to our urban campus.”
“This is a historic event in the world of police work,” Halliburton said in an August video message. “I understand it’s going to have its challenges, but it’s the right thing to do for Portland State. We will still protect our campus. We will still provide police services. We will have police officers available. We will have them here, but they will be unarmed.”
After the announcement, Disarm PSU released this statement: “After seven years of organizing, protesting, collaborating, and coalition-building, the members of #DisarmPSU are thrilled by today’s announcement from President Percy that CPSO will patrol campus without firearms. We appreciate the active listening and the commitment to change demonstrated by President Percy, and members of the Board of Trustees, and acknowledge the labor of all involved over the past seven years.”
According to Halliburton, when unarmed patrols begin, officers will instead patrol with “non-lethal tasers,” and a stock-pile of firearms will be located in the CPSO office for a small number of emergencies, such as an active shooter situation.
“I’ve examined my own experience dealing with police as a civilian,” Halliburton stated at the time of the announcement, “and I must tell you, things must change. And here at [PSU], I am so proud to be a part of this historic, groundbreaking way of doing police work.”
In his most recent video message, Halliburton concluded by saying: “We will take this first step at [PSU], and it is my hope that others in this country will look to us to see how we made it successful. Thank you for your patience, and most of all your support in this process.”