A history of the unpopular decision to arm PSU officers and how the policy might change
Jason Washington was killed by a gun that many Portland State University students and faculty have argued for years should never have been given to campus police.
Multiple reports say Washington had been trying to break up a fight at The Cheerful Tortoise bar on the corner of Southwest Sixth Avenue and Southwest College Street when PSU Campus Public Safety Officers Shawn McKenzie and James Dewey shot him. The owner of a gun and a valid concealed-carry permit, Washington reportedly had been trying to pick up his fallen weapon when he was shot.
Last Friday, Andre Washington, his bereaved brother, became the latest and loudest voice calling for Portland State University police to disarm. But he was hardly the first.
"Split-second decisions made by overzealous and poorly trained campus police caused our family and our community to lose a wonderful human being," Andre Washington said at a news conference organized by the Portland NAACP. Andre Washington said his brother, a Navy veteran, father of three and grandfather to a 5-year-old girl, supported the Second Amendment and the police.
"Think about that," he said. "Jason Washington wholeheartedly supported our police and the justice system. This systemic oppression must stop in order for us to move forward."
As his brother's three daughters, granddaughter and wife held hands in the background, Andre Washington called for a transparent and thorough investigation of the incident, disarming and retraining campus police, as well as for the officers involved to be fired.
Portland State University President Rahmat Shoureshi said in a statement that the university would cooperate fully with the official investigation and also conduct its own investigation.
"The ongoing investigation by the Portland Police Bureau limits what we can say, but I want to make clear that we fully recognize the severity of what occurred," Shoureshi's statement read.
There were no meetings scheduled on campus safety, and university officials did not provide further information by press time on their efforts.
"Board members want to see the completion of the police investigation and the findings and recommendations of the independent review before making decisions on campus security," said Chris Broderick, a Portland State University spokesman. The selection of an independent contractor to review the shooting for the university has not yet happened.
PSU follows national trend
The road to arming Portland State University campus police began in 2013. Then-president Wim Wiewel ordered a task force of various board members and campus members to examine how best to improve campus security, as well as people's perceptions of campus security.
The resulting report had a wide range of recommendations, from improving lighting to pushing all employees to enroll in the PSU Alert system. But the most controversial of the changes was to make part of the PSU campus security team sworn officers. Sworn police officers are not just armed. They also are able to investigate crimes, apply for search warrants and have many other legal powers.
According to the 2013 report, Portland State University was the only university in the country with more than 15,000 students to not have an armed police force.
The most recent statistics available from the U.S. Department of Justice show three-quarters of the nation's colleges and universities with more than 2,500 students had armed officers in 2011-12. Public universities are much more likely to have armed officers — 92 percent of government-funded campuses had armed officers, compared to just 38 percent of private schools.
In Portland, the University of Portland's private campus security is not armed. Concordia University's officers are not armed and firearms are not allowed on campus.
Oregon Health & Science University's campus police have been armed since 2013. Portland Community College does not have armed officers on any of its campuses. University of Oregon's Portland campus in Old Town contracts with Pacific Security, and those officers are not armed.
PSU officials say they will revisit their policies and procedures in light of the incident, but did not say whether disarming campus cops was on the table. It also is unclear what the venue will be for making these sorts of decisions.
Rick Miller, the PSU board chairman, did not return a phone call. Tom Imeson, the head of the Special Committee on Campus Public Safety and vice president at NW Natural, did not respond to emailed questions. OPB has reported that the university is bracing for a lawsuit.
Most opposed arming officers
The majority of students and faculty who responded to surveys in 2014 were not supportive of having armed officers on campus. Of 1,200 students who responded to an Associated Students of PSU survey, 58 percent opposed an armed force. Of the 400 faculty who responded to an American Association of University Professors survey, 68 percent were against it.
Under the hashtag #DisarmPSU, activists have been hosting protests almost monthly and have kept up social media pressure for years.
See our coverage from 2015: PSU arms officers over loud complaints
Olivia Pace, a spokeswoman for the Portland State University Student Union, said it was still shocking to hear about the shooting the following morning.
"We did know this was going to happen in some way; that's why we fought against (arming campus security). But it was very jarring. It was very sad," Pace said. "Watching a family lose their father and their grandfather despite the work that we did to try to prevent this, that's horrible."
Students with the Disarm PSU movement have showed up to voice their displeasure at multiple campus meetings and events, including shutting down a couple of board meetings.
Pace said the university president's vow to review policies "feels like a joke."
She said the university's promises that PSU's police force would be different haven't come to fruition.
"It's not transparent. It's not democratic," Pace said. "It's not community policing, because the community has no voice in how this department operates."
Police response slow
The 2013 report found that 90 percent of arrests made on campus by campus officers were of people who had no affiliation with the university. The task force explored the idea of contracting with the Portland Police Bureau and Oregon State Police, but both agencies said they would not be able to dedicate resources to the campus. Despite its proximity to the Portland Police Bureau headquarters, PSU is just a part of one bureau precinct with a single dedicated officer.
Portland Police Bureau Commander Robert Day wrote in an Oct. 1, 2013, letter to the task force that in the event of an active shooter, the then-unarmed campus police wouldn't be able to stop them.
"They would have to wait for our response and when they join us, they would be at great risk," Day wrote.
PSU says on its website that such response times can be up to 20 minutes.
In the Washington scenario, it also is unclear whether the police would have responded any differently than PSU's officers if called to the scene. They receive the same training from the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training.
In a 1985 in-custody death that rocked the city, Lloyd "Tony" Stevenson, an African-American off-duty security guard, helped stop a thief but died from a "sleeper hold" an officer put him in after a fight broke out. The officer was not indicted and co-workers who were fired for printing shirts with a smoking gun that said "Don't Choke 'Em, Smoke 'Em" got their jobs back.
After elected officials vowed to review policies and procedures, then-Chief Penny Harrington banned the sleeper hold in the Portland Police Bureau.