Illustration by Zahira Zuvuya

PSU President Stephen Percy is a coward

If the administration is changing CPSO policy, they should tell us to our face

Portland State President Stephen Percy and Campus Public Safety Office Chief Willie Halliburton are changing university policy to put guns back in the hands of campus police. They don’t want you to know that.


On April 11, Percy sent out an email to the campus community with the subject “An important campus safety update for 2023 Spring Term.” What vague and nonspecific phrasing, you might have said when this email entered your inbox. I can probably skip over that! I certainly did the first time I saw it, and I can guess that was the intended effect.


However, hidden within this fairly inconspicuous email is the explosive admission that campus police will begin patrolling with guns again, not even two years after Percy and Halliburton first made the decision to disarm CPSO.


The full impact of this decision is beyond the scope of this article, and requires more research and time to fully analyze—something we plan to do. Here, I want to address the obfuscation of responsibility and lack of transparency from the administration around this decision. The PSU community deserves more respect from their leaders.


Percy’s email announcing the change is riddled with passive voice and evasive phrasing, such as “These factors have necessitated a change in practice on the part of campus police officers,” and “In order to protect our campus, our nine sworn officers are having to go on most patrols carrying arms.” These phrases conveniently leave out the power relationships underlying these decisions. “Necessitated a change” according to whom? “Officers are having to go on most patrols carrying arms”—says who? Who made these decisions?


This communication is so devoid of meaningful content it can barely be called one. The most important part, i.e. the fact that CPSO officers are re-arming—the whole reason for sending the 

email in the first place, in fact—is buried at the end of the fifth paragraph, after a cavalcade of cover-your-ass pablum that ultimately amounts to nothing.


The cowardice of this communication is clearest when comparing how Percy addresses the initial CPSO disarmament to how he talks about the recent about-face. “Following the tragic shooting of Jason Washington by campus police officers in 2018 and the racial justice protests of 2020, Chief Halliburton and I committed to begin campus safety anew, putting the policies and personnel in place to begin routine unarmed patrols by sworn officers on our campus in September, 2021,” Percy wrote. Notice how clear and concise the language is here, the specificity with which he describes the decision.


Now compare that to how he wrote about his and Halliburton’s decision to rearm CPSO. “Our officers are encountering an increasing number of weapons on and near campus,” he wrote, “and they are receiving limited assistance from the Portland Police Bureau due to increased demands for officers across the city.” Because of this, “our nine sworn officers are having to go on most patrols carrying arms.”


What a shameful refusal of responsibility.


Disarming CPSO in 2021 was a PR coup for the university, for Percy and for CPSO, so it makes sense that he’d want to take the credit. Here, however, he presents his administration’s policy backtrack as if it were a force of nature—“our officers” now “have” to patrol with guns because of “an increasing number of weapons.” Don’t blame me, Percy is saying—I just work here.


Percy and Halliburton cannot take credit for their successes and then deflect responsibility for their failures. CPSO “officers” did not make the decision to re-arm patrols—Percy and Halliburton did.


Further, Percy claims that his announcement is “part of an ongoing conversation and effort to rethink how we do campus safety at Portland State.” Conversation? As a student, I don’t recall being asked about this decision. I don’t remember a public comment period, or any opportunity for the PSU community to offer their input. Who is having this conversation? Whose voices actually matter?


Percy and CPSO have made the decision to re-arm CPSO officers unilaterally, and they should have the respect for the campus community to say so, not hide behind PR language. With an issue as important as this, it’s not only cowardly for the administration to obscure responsibility in this way, it’s inexcusable.