The University of Oregon earlier this week announced it will be reducing the number of armed officers on its campus.
The university said the change is intended to make the UO Police Department a “more inclusive and community-oriented campus law enforcement agency.” UO said it also wants to address concerns about racial bias and police brutality.
The decision came after discussions between campus leaders, including UO President Michael Schill, UOPD Chief Matt Carmichael and students, faculty, staff and community members.
“Ultimately, our campus is best served by a dedicated and fully equipped law enforcement agency that is familiar with the UO campus, understands and embraces our shared values, is engaged in the day-to-day life of the institution, and has established relationships with students, affinity groups, our faculty and staff,” Schill wrote in a message to the campus community Monday.
“That said, I understand that to some members of our community, particularly our students, faculty, and staff of color, an armed police force generates feelings of oppression and a lack of safety,” Schill continued. “It is important to me and to our entire community that all of us feel safe and included at the University of Oregon.”
UOPD will shift several of its armed officer positions into unarmed community service officer positions. It will do so by eliminating seven sworn officer positions that are currently vacant and adding nine service officer positions. The university said no current UOPD employees will be laid off or reclassified due to the shift.
The agency currently employs about 19 armed officers and about three unarmed officers.
The unarmed community service officers will conduct security patrols on campus and will respond to all non-emergency calls that do not require a police officer. Those officers will also no longer wear police-style uniforms, the university said. Instead, they will wear “easily recognizable attire” with a goal to make them feel more approachable to the campus community.
Schill and other UO leaders have reiterated that the university will not be disbanding or disarming the UOPD, regardless of requests by student activist groups including DisarmUO.
“I’ve been clear all along that I cannot support fully disarming our agency, putting our officers in the field and community at risk,” UOPD Chief Carmichael said in a statement. “But these are reasonable, data-driven changes that are responsive to needs and expectations of our campus community.”
The university also said it will hire an outside consultant to develop additional public safety proposals by working with the campus community. That work will include looking at a potential new police accountability process and options for improved response to people dealing with mental health crises.