Campus police officers at Portland State University quietly resumed carrying guns almost two months ago in response to what officials describe as increased incidents of weapons appearing on campus. Most students, faculty and staff learned of the change Tuesday from a message sent by President Stephen Percy, which the university leader said he was sending “in the interest of transparency.”
“Our officers are encountering an increasing number of weapons on and near campus and they are receiving limited assistance from the Portland Police Bureau due to increased demands for officers across the city,” Percy said. “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.”
Whether to arm police on the downtown campus has been a controversial subject for years, starting in 2014, when PSU armed officers over the objections of some people on campus. Then on June 28, 2018, campus police shot and killed Jason Washington. Washington, a Black man, was attempting to break up a fight outside a bar near PSU when he was shot.
Protests erupted on campus following that shooting and led to a new campus safety plan, which maintained armed officers but created new unarmed security positions, as well. Opponents of armed campus police weren’t satisfied. When Portland protesters joined a national movement in the summer of 2020 after the police killing of George Floyd, disarming PSU police again became a big issue.
PSU leaders responded by agreeing to shift to unarmed campus patrols for the school year starting in fall 2020, but the change didn’t happen right away. Officials said they didn’t have the necessary staffing to make the change, so it was delayed until the following school year.
Now, Portland State officials say it’s again necessary to change back to armed patrols on campus. In an email to OPB, PSU said on Feb. 14, campus officers were given the authority by PSU Police Chief Willie Halliburton.
“Feb. 14 was the effective date when Chief Halliburton shifted from making the call to arm patrols as necessary (something that was allowed under the unarmed patrol policy from the beginning) to allowing officers to arm at their discretion,” PSU’s director of strategic communications Christina Williams said in an email.
But people on campus didn’t learn of this change until April 11, nearly two months after officers were given discretion over whether to carry guns.
Williams said the president’s office and the university’s Public Safety Oversight Committee “were informed prior to the message.”