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Despite announcement months earlier that campus officers would ditch guns, officials say staffing shortages have delayed plans

PHOTO COURTESY: PORTLAND STATE UNIVERSITY - A recreation center at Portland State University is set among an urban downtown environment. The university recently announced it will delay plans to disarm its campus police force.Campus police at Portland State University will continue to be armed for now, despite an announcement months ago that the school would disarm its police force.

After announcing in August that the campus public safety officers would stop carrying guns this fall, PSU Chief of Police Willie Halliburton said staffing and administrative constraints have delayed that plan.

"We set an aggressive implementation timeline with the hope of completing the work this fall. While we are making steady progress, we are not on track to achieve our goal as soon as we'd hoped," a joint message from Chief Halliburton and PSU President Stephen Percy stated.

The late October email said in order to disarm its campus officers, the university needs to be able to staff two people per shift, which it currently can't do. After the announcement over the summer of the shift to unarmed patrols, three officers recently retired or resigned, leaving the university's public safety office short-staffed, according to the university. Additionally, the policy change requires administrative work.

"We will continue to recruit new officers who, like those who are continuing with CPSO, are committed to moving forward with this bold new style of policing," the letter from Percy and Halliburton added, noting the department also employs non-sworn officers and student safety ambassadors.

COURTESY PHOTO: PORTLAND STATE UNIVERSITY - Portland State University Campus Police Chief Willie Halliburton says the college will have to delay disarming its police officers."We are unaware of any other police agency in the nation that has shifted from armed to unarmed patrols by sworn officers," the email added. "Agencies across the country are contacting us wanting to know how we are going about creating this new reality. The shift requires updating hundreds of policies and procedures related to CPSO. The work is currently undergoing internal and external legal review."

Halliburton, who spent 25 years with the Portland Police Bureau before being tapped to lead PSU's campus public safety office, said he believes the plan to go weapon-free can work, with time.

In a video message, Halliburton called the switch from armed to unarmed policing "groundbreaking work," and said it may not work in other cities, but it will at PSU.

PSU's campus safety office has faced additional challenges with vandalism to its building. On the evening of Oct. 11, protesters shattered windows on the building and damaged a door. The damage was cleaned up the next morning, and no one was injured, but Halliburton said staff were "traumatized" by the events.

"For me, I take this personal. Someone has to show what peace looks like," Halliburton said. "We cannot continue to fight aggression with aggression. This is our model."

The campus police chief said he hopes other law enforcement agencies across the country look to PSU as a model for success.

PSU's urban, downtown campus layout makes it unique. The university's campus public safety office came under heavy scrutiny and calls for disarmament in 2018 following the death of Jason Washington, who was shot and killed by a campus police officer outside a bar near the campus. Washington picked up a gun that was dropped during a scuffle outside the bar as police were on scene and was fatally shot moments later.

Two years later, the university announced that a memorial scholarship and art installation would be created in Washington's honor.


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