Katherine Cook (KGW)
PORTLAND, Ore. (KGW) — Portland State University has rearmed its campus police force.
University President Stephen Percy explained the reasons why in a letter posted on the school’s website, Tuesday. Percy said PSU officers are encountering an increasing number of weapons on and near campus receiving limited help from the Portland Police Bureau.
“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,” wrote Percy.
A campus spokesperson told KGW the change has been in place since February. Response to the announcement was mixed among students.
“I think the only thing I can say is it’s uncomfortable for students,” said a PSU freshman named Griselda.
“I’m hoping that everything stays safe,” said JD Amisi. “I’m hoping that they don’t have to use them.”
Both Amisi and fellow student Edward Niyongere said that as students of color, they feel less comfortable approaching officers now, knowing they’re armed.
“Before I knew this, I was definitely more willing to talk to campus police if I had a situation or a problem,” said Niyongere. “If [officers] do have guns, they might accidentally mistake me for [a suspect], but I can also see why somebody would want them carrying it just in case that something happens.”
In 2018, campus police shot and killed Jason Washington. At the time, Washington was trying to break up a fight near the Cheerful Tortoise. In a settlement agreement, PSU paid Washington’s family $1 million. Calls to disarm PSU officers, followed. The murder of George Floyd strengthened those calls. In 2020, PSU announced they would change the way police patrolled on campus. Sworn officers carried guns only at the discretion of PSU Chief of Campus Public Safety, Willie Halliburton.
“Things have changed,” Halliburton told KGW in 2020. “We have to find a way to reinvent or do police work that’s not just beneficial for police officers but for the community… I truly believe this is what we need here at Portland State. It will work here.”
Judging by Tuesday’s announcement, it didn’t work for as long as many had hoped it would.
“Unfortunately, the environment around the PSU campus has changed since that time,” wrote Percy.
In addition to Percy’s letter to students, the school posted a video message from Halliburton.
“We have not abandoned unarmed patrols,” said Halliburton in the video. “You will see our officers respond to certain calls in an unarmed manner. This was done so at the officer’s discretion and when it’s safe.”
Besides PSU’s nine sworn officers, their staff also includes seven unarmed public safety officers and eight student safety ambassadors.
KGW requested one-on-one interviews with school officials Tuesday afternoon, but a campus spokesperson said no one was available for an interview on the topic.
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