Portland State University Interim President Stephen Percy presented his campus safety plan to the Board of Trustees Thursday at its first meeting of the fall term.
The plan retains armed campus police officers and expands roles for unarmed officers, including a new “student safety ambassador” role.
The plan comes after controversy and concern from the PSU community.
In June 2018, four years after the decision to create a campus public safety office, armed campus security officers shot and killed Jason Washington, a legally armed black man who witnesses say was trying to break up a fight in the moments leading up to his death. Since then, the PSU administration has received increased attention and criticism for its decision to have armed officers on campus.
After the shooting, PSU hired Margolis Healy and Associates to review campus safety protocol and strategy, as well as solicit community feedback on campus security. The firm made 115 recommendations to PSU.
PSU administration was set to present its safety plan back in June, but following President Rahmat Shoureshi’s resignation and the decision to hire PSU staffer Stephen Percy as interim president, Percy said he needed the summer months for his “assessment of the situation.”
Percy’s plan does not require action from the Board of Trustees before its implementation. Several aspects of the plan are already in play.
Recruitment is underway to increase the number of both unarmed and armed campus officers. The university plans to hire six campus public safety officers — responders who are unarmed and contribute to “community-based policing,” according to the plan. That would expand the number of these officers from four to 10.
The university has long wanted 10 armed officers on staff; reaching that number would meet a goal of having two officers and a supervisor on duty 24/7. Currently there are six armed officers.
Current officers are already receiving specialized training included in the safety plan. That training includes courses on PSU’s discrimination and harassment policies, Oregon’s history, unconscious bias and mental health awareness. Officers are also being trained in deescalation techniques. Several of these trainings are set to be completed once annually, with some aspects, including training on implicit bias and microaggressions, to be repeated every six months.
The university also plans to ask PSU’s Homelessness Research and Action Collaborative to provide training on housing insecurity and homelessness.
A small group of students will have a direct role in campus safety, according to the plan. A minimum of 10 student safety ambassadors will be hired to serve as the “first point of contact and community presence.” These students will have radios and work in teams.
According to the timeline in the plan, recruitment for these roles will begin next month, aiming to have students in place early in the winter term.
The committee overseeing the public safety office will see some changes, too. It will have direct reporting authority to Percy if there are problems. Committee members will also have greater access to officer training schedules and confidential data related to any incidents.
Following Percy’s presentation, the board heard from concerned members of PSU as well as Washington’s widow.
Students involved in the campus advocacy group, Portland State University Student Union, pledged to keep new students from coming to the school.
“From this moment forward, we will spend every minute and every fiber of our being into letting the world know one thing — do not come here,” said recent graduate and former PSUSU president Olivia Pace. “PSU has declared a war on marginalized peoples that inhabit downtown Portland.”
Students expressed continued concern about having armed officers on campus. Percy said he respects their concern.
“I’d like to try to do some healing or working together so that we could come together and hopefully convince those people, at least our police officers are people they should not have to fear,” Percy said. “I think that’s a long and major challenge for us.”
Throughout the meeting, members of the group held signs asking the board to “Disarm PSU,” a yearslong effort that ramped up in the aftermath of Washington’s death.
“We urge any person with a conscience, with a sense of morality, and love for other people to spend their money anywhere but here,” Pace said.
Sitting with her daughters, Michelle Washington gave the last public comment to the board before the meeting ended.
“I know that the decision’s been made and there’s nothing we can do, but I pray that one day you guys change your mind,” Washington said. “Hopefully sooner rather than later before it happens to anyone else.”
In the plan, PSU places responsibility on all members of the campus community. The plan suggests everyone should understand “the difference between a situation requiring an emergency response and one requiring alternate interventions.” Campus leaders plan to promote this and other responsibilities in collaboration with the University Public Safety Oversight Committee and the Campus Public Safety Office.
There is still other work to be done as part of the plan, including the development of responses to a mental health crisis and individual building access plans.
University leaders will also hire a campus physical security manager, who will work on expanding cameras and lights on campus.
This story will be updated.