PSU poll shows majority want campus police disarmed
A slim majority at Portland State University want to yank guns out of the hands of the police officers patrolling the campus.
A 213-page report commissioned by PSU and compiled by consultants Margolis Healy states that 52 percent of polled students, faculty and staff want the school's 10 sworn campus safety officers to disarm.
Another 37 percent want police to keep their weapons, and 10 percent had no opinion. About 4,150 people participated in the survey, out of a total community of roughly 27,670.
The report comes after two members of PSU's Campus Public Safety Office fatally shot an African-American man who was trying to break up a brawl outside a bar on June 29. A student-led protest movement later occupied the campus while demanding the guards disarm.
The officers were cleared of all wrong-doing after video surveillance footage appeared to show Jason Washington — a 45-year-old postal worker and Navy veteran — holding a gun.
And while the report affirms that protest leaders speak for a larger crowd, Margolis Healy ultimately recommended that the PSU Board of Trustees allow police officers keep their guns close at hand.
"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.
It continued: "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."
The report is not free of criticism, however.
It says administrators adopted "an arms-length, almost laissez-faire" approach to the transition from unarmed to armed campus officers in December, 2014, and failed to follow through on expectations that the decision would create a "hybrid" department with both types of officers. Instead, the board moved in the opposite direction, eliminating or converting unsworn positions at the safety office.
To that end, the report offers a laundry list of suggestions to the board — calling for everything from realignment of the mix of armed and unarmed officers at the school to an increase in lamppost construction near rail stops.
Other key take-aways include the creation of a "mini police academy" that would allow officers to complete 80 hours of in-service training a year, with some classes focusing on bias and de-escalation techniques. Additionally, the pre-exisiting University Public Safety Oversight Committee would be empowered to make policy and training recommendations and review sealed use-of-force reports.
The plan envisions a campus safety office that deploys certified mental health professionals to security-related calls and staffs a community liaison unit designed to enhance collaboration between police and PSU's homelessness study initiative.
A spokesman for PSU says the polished PDF was released to the media just after 5 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 22 in order to give the public time to prepare for an upcoming board meeting at 9 a.m. on March 7 at PSU's Smith Memorial Student Union Ballroom.
Coincidentally, large institutions often bury bad news by releasing it on Friday nights, because they know many readers are distracted by weekend plans and the story will have disappeared from the homepage by Monday morning.
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