John Fowler, who transformed the Campus Public Safety Office from an enforcement operation to a community-service orientation, has left Portland State University after eight years of service to reunite with his family in Seattle.
Fowler, who spent 20 years in the military before coming to PSU, emphasized he regrets leaving.
“It was a very, very difficult decision,” he said, “but one that’s in the best interest of my family, and I can assure you that Portland State will be dearly missed.”
For the past 14 months, his wife has been working in Seattle while he and his 12-year-old son have held down the family residence at Lake Oswego.
An opportunity came for Fowler to fill a newly created police-related job in Seattle and he made the decision to make the move. His final day at his Portland State desk was Aug. 31.
Filling the director’s job on an interim basis is Sgt. Michael Soto, a 21-year veteran of the public safety office. Officer Kasey Kanekoa is currently filling Soto’s position.
Fowler took the director’s job at PSU on May 1, 1994. He was retiring from the military with the rank of major and was the chief of police at the Presidio of San Francisco. At Portland State, he faced new challenges.
“I was hired to move the office forward into a more proactive service provider in the public-safety area than what would be considered the traditional reactive security mode,” he said. “I think we’ve done that.”
Jay Kenton, vice president for Finance and Administration and Fowler’s boss, salutes his development of the public-safety operation.
“John’s impact on the professionalization of campus-public-safety services at PSU has been legendary,” Kenton said. “He took a security unit and transformed it into one of the best campus-public-safety units in the country, which has been a model for others to emulate. Needless to say, John will be dearly missed.”
Under his leadership, the office has received two community-oriented policing service awards from the city. He has built close relationships with Portland police and secured access to the police database. His office won a $225,000 community-oriented policing grant that enabled him to add three more staff positions.
He transitioned the office from student-operated dispatching service to a classified staff all certified as call-takers.
He introduced the blue light stations throughout campus, where the push of a red button connects the caller immediately to public safety emergency response.
He created the position of community resource officer, with Steve Coop filling in as the first in a rotating position. This fall, Renee Nylander is rotating into the assignment.
Fowler has maintained open relations with The Vanguard and other news media. His motto continues to be, “Bad news does not get better with time.”
Fowler feels he has dealt with a lot of serious issues on campus.
“We have had no murders, but we have had bodies,” he said. “We’ve had suicides, we’ve had people fall off the roof of the Ondine. We have had some very significant behavioral issues that we have responded to appropriately.”
More than 60 people, among them PSU President Daniel Bernstine and members of the Portland Police Bureau, honored Fowler with a farewell reception Sept. 12. Soto spoke for the Portland State officer force when he said, “He made us professional. We had a vision; he had a greater vision. He empowered us. He enabled us.”
For all his dedication to duty, Fowler enjoys a lighter side of life.
“My wife says I have two mistresses,” he said. “One is my old car, which is a ’41 Plymouth that we have restored. The other is my golf game. Between my family, and work, and my golf game, and my old car, we stay pretty committed.”