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After sustained calls to do away with armed cops following 2018 fatality, urban university heeds the call

SCREENSHOT  - Portland State University Police Chief Willie Halliburton announced Aug. 13 that the campus will disarm its police force, beginning fall 2020.Portland State University will begin disarming its campus public safety officers, following community calls to do away with armed police.

The move was announced Thursday morning, Aug. 13.

PSU's plans to revamp its campus policing come as part of the university's Reimagine Campus Safety plans. The campus currently employs six sworn and seven non-sworn officers.

Thursday's announcement is the first major move to come from PSU's new police chief, Willie Halliburton, who was appointed July 6 to lead the campus police force. Halliburton previously worked 32 years as a cop, most notably with Portland Police Bureau, where he worked until 2016.

"This is a historic event in the world of police work," Halliburton said in a video message announcing the changes. "I understand it's going to have its challenges, but it's the right thing to do for Portland State. We will still protect our campus. We will still provide police services. We will have police officers available … but they will be unarmed."

Officers will carry tasers, and if a call requires an armed officer, PSU police will call on the Portland Police Bureau.

Given PSU's downtown urban campus layout, Halliburton said PSU also will reach out to other organizations and departments for ideas on how to deal with the houseless situation and "those who come on our campus who have mental health challenges."

In an email to the university, PSU President Stephen Percy said the campus no longer could ignore the calls for change.

"Over the past few weeks we have listened to many voices across our campus," Percy wrote. "The calls for change that we are hearing at PSU are ringing out across our nation. We must find a new way to protect the safety of our community, one that eliminates systemic racism and promotes the dignity of all who come to our urban campus." PMG FILE PHOTO - Stephen Percy

Halliburton said the decision came after reflection and feedback from the community, as well as his own experiences as a civilian dealing with police.

"I must tell you, things must change," he added. Shortly after stepping into the leadership role at PSU, Halliburton said recent events, most notably the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis, have had major impacts on policing and his own thoughts on the way forward.

"May 25 changed the world. It changed Portland, Oregon. It changed the United States," Halliburton told the Southwest Community Connection — sister publication of the Tribune — in July. "After the murder of George Floyd, I contemplated stepping away from law enforcement. It hurt me so bad, because that was me."

"All the years of good police work had gone down the drain in eight minutes and 46 seconds," Halliburton said, referring to Floyd's death by asphyxiation after an officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

"As a Black policeman, I have been stopped by the police, off duty," he said. "What the community is experiencing, I have experienced. My sons have experienced that. The only difference is, I put a uniform on every day."

PSU's announcement follows roughly two years of calls from students and the surrounding Portland community to disarm officers on campus, following the 2018 death of Jason Washington by a PSU officer in front of a bar near campus.

The changes will be in effect beginning fall 2020, but PSU noted previously that the fall semester will begin largely online, with some in-person classes, as concerns over spread of COVID-19 have moved much of Oregon's fall 2020 educational instruction to a remote format.

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