Portland State Rearms Campus Police After Disarming Them in 2021
Most of the campus community wasn’t informed of the decision until nearly two months after Portland State police began carrying firearms again.
PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland State University (PSU) campus police have been armed since February after an increase in the number of weapons on and near campus, according to school officials.
Most students, faculty, and staff first learned of the change on Tuesday in a message sent to the campus community by President Stephen Percy.
“Our officers are encountering an increasing number of weapons on and near campus and they are receiving limited assistance from the Portland Police Bureau due to increased demands for officers across the city,” Percy wrote. “These factors have necessitated a change in practice on the part of campus police officers: In order to protect our campus, our nine sworn officers are having to go on most patrols carrying arms.”
Campus leaders were first met with opposition in 2014 when they began arming officers. In 2018, opposition grew after two PSU police officers shot and killed a man outside an off-campus bar. Jason Washington, 45, was shot nine times outside the Cheerful Tortoise when a holstered handgun he was carrying fell onto the ground as he was trying to break up a fight, according to several witnesses. Two responding PSU officers, Shawn McKenzie and James Dewey, opened fire when Washington reached for the weapon. The officers were cleared of any wrongdoing by a grand jury and are no longer on the force.
Subsequent protests erupted on campus, leading to a new campus safety plan that, in part, kept armed officers but created new unarmed security positions, reports OPB. Following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, protesters again called for the unarming of PSU police. University leaders agreed to switch to unarmed campus patrols starting in the fall of 2020 but it was delayed until the following school year after officials said they didn’t have the necessary staffing to make the change.
On Feb. 14, PSU police were again given the authority by Chief Willie Halliburton to begin carrying guns. In a video message shared on April 11, Halliburton said he has not “abandoned unarmed patrols” and that his nine officers have discretion over whether to bring along a firearm.
“You will see our officers respond to certain calls in an unarmed manner,” he said. “This was done so at the officer’s discretion and when it’s safe.”
Percy said he is regularly meeting with Halliburton, and that they both will meet with the University Public Safety Oversight Committee on a monthly basis “to review campus safety conditions and discuss our path forward.”
“While this may seem like a step backward in our ongoing efforts to achieve lasting change, it does not alter our commitment to actively pursue a campus safety system that prizes de-escalation, respects the dignity of our diverse campus community, and finds a path to return to regular unarmed patrols on campus,” he said.
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