More Training Needed For Armed PSU Officers

portland state university

A report issued by an independent consultant hired to review campus safety at PSU has concluded that students, faculty and staff are divided on the issue of disarming campus police, with the firm recommending more training and oversight of officers.

The investigation was launched following the fatal shooting by PSU officers of Jason Washington outside of a pub near the campus.

The 287-page report produced by Margolis Healy—a Vermont-based safety and security consultant—includes opinion survey results from 4,145 students, faculty and staff, which shows 52 percent of participants want PSU to disarm their 10 sworn police officers. Roughly 37 percent of the respondents believe the officers should keep their firearms, while 10 percent had no opinion.

“Proponents on both sides of this issue presented their respective opinions with conviction, sincerity, and emotion,” the report states. “Another interesting perception that emerged during the survey, and to a lesser degree during the forums, is the belief that Campus Public Safety Office (CPSO) officers are not adequately trained, currently, to handle the grave responsibility that goes with being equipped with lethal force weapons.”

Margolis Healy recommends that PSU continue with the original Board of Trustee’s decision in 2015 to arm sworn campus police officers so that they are available to respond to violent and potentially violent situations.

“The information regarding crime and other violent situations the Board used to make their decisions about transitioning to armed officers has not fundamentally changed, especially with respect to violent incidents,” the report states. “Disarming CPSO officers would make PSU an outlier amongst its peers and would represent an abnormal step with respect to campus safety models in higher education.”

Since 2015, targeted violent incidents have increased across the nation, according to the FBI. For example, there have been 250 active shooter incidents in the U.S. from 2000 to 2017. 

In its Quick Look report, the FBI emphasized the “swiftness” with which these incidents occur, providing additional support for why armed and trained officers who are familiar with the campus are vitally important during a rapidly unfolding targeted violence incident, the Margolis Healy report concludes.

Other key recommendations in the report include:

•   Enhance new officer training by creating a mini police academy to cover topics such as cultural competency, awareness, humility, bias-policing, de-escalation techniques, effective communications with the public, crisis intervention, alternatives to arrest and creating positive relationships with underserved communities.

•   Develop a mandatory, annual in-service training program consisting of at least 80 hours. Adopt the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA) standards on training and professional development. Incorporate racial and biased based policing training into the CPSO’s annual in-service training program. Conduct mandatory training for officers wearing body cameras.

•   Increase oversight of CPSO by PSU’s University Public Safety Oversight Committee to include making policy, procedure and training recommendations; having enhanced oversight of use-of-force incidents; getting access to closed internal CPSO investigations, etc.

•   Develop a plan for producing bias-free policing.

•   Increase the number of non-sworn CPSO officers for patrol and security-related calls.

•   Deploy certified mental health professionals with CPSO officers on calls where the person involved is either suspected or known to be experiencing a mental health crisis, or is under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

•   Develop a community liaison unit focused on campus engagement, crime prevention and safety awareness programming. This unit would focus on engaging in sustained dialogue with the PSU community to restore trust and establish legitimacy.

•   Expand CPSO’s relationship with PSU’s Homelessness Research and Action Collaborative (HRAC) and Portland’s Joint Office of Homeless Services (JOHS) to work on homeless issues.

•   For safety reasons, increase light flow at campus rail stations and outside of the parking structures.

The Board of Trustee will convene a special public meeting at 9 a.m. on March 7 at PSU’s Smith Memorial Student Union Ballroom to hear representatives from Margolis Healy discuss their findings and recommendations in the report. Board members, students, faculty, staff and the public will have an opportunity to ask the consultants questions and to comment.

The Board will not be voting on the recommendations at this meeting. Instead, they will be announcing the next steps in gathering campus and community input on the report and its recommendations.

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