Portland State University should retain its armed campus police force, according to Margolis Healy, a consulting firm hired by the university.
An independent review of campus safety at Portland State University found significant deficiencies in university oversight and communication with the campus community around the issue of armed police, but Margolis Healy ultimately recommended keeping guns in the hands of officers.
“While we have provided several alternatives to armed officers, we believe, after our extensive research and reflection, that Portland State should retain armed officers as a comportment to its Campus Public Safety Office,” the consultants wrote in a more than 200-page report that published Friday.
PSU hired campus safety consultants Margolis Healy to examine security after university police shot and killed a black man named Jason Washington in June. The shooting roiled the campus, with numerous protests, including a multi-day encampment outside the university’s campus security office as school started last summer.
Results of the review come almost eight months after the fatal shooting of Washington, a mail carrier and Navy veteran.
PSU officers James Dewey and Shawn McKenzie shot and killed Washington during a drunken brawl outside of the Cheerful Tortoise bar near campus early on June 29. Washington was among the first to respond to an escalating scuffle between two other men. Washington had a handgun visibly holstered on his right hip.
Opposition to PSU’s armed security never went away in the four years since the Board of Trustees approved the policy in 2015, though until Washington was shot, administrators largely avoided re-opening the debate. With the release of the consultants’ report, opponents of armed campus security are finding further evidence of a university not interested in listening to the community’s preference.
“Really, the main question we had was whether it would stand on the side of the community or with the administration,” said Olivia Pace, an organizer with the PSU Student Union who helped start an encampment last fall of the campus security office.
“And we feel that it stands on the side of the administration,” Pace added
Pace pointed to the consultants’ own report, which found 52 percent opposition to armed campus security, compared with 37 percent support.
While Margolis Healy recommended keeping the armed officers, it suggested a shift toward unarmed security, where possible.
“[W]e believe the University should fundamentally change how it deploys these officers by adopting a model that primarily relies on non-sworn officers as the core patrol function for response to most calls for service,” the consultants said. “The armed officers would primarily serve as response to violent or potentially violent situations.”
PSU President Rahmat Shoureshi picked Margolis Healy to conduct a broad review of campus safety policies and procedures in September. The consultants conducted listening sessions at the university.
The group’s final report was critical of PSU’s lax oversight of the campus police, concluding that the university didn’t give clear guidance or authority to the University Public Safety Oversight Committee.
“While we are generally pleased that the University formed an oversight committee, it does not appear the committee currently has the appropriate authority or structure to enforce the wide-ranging mandates under its purview,” the consultants’ report said.
It also said university administrators failed to restore trust on campus, after the divisive decision to arm its security force.
“In our view, the university is complicit in this lingering mistrust, as it failed to undertake meaningful efforts to address the rift that was exposed during the campus wide discussions related to arming,” the report said.
Given a chance to mend fences, the report added, administrators fell short.
“[T]he university made a critical error by not considering ways to reestablish trust with the campus community in the aftermath of its decision to arm its sworn police officers,” the consultants wrote.
While Margolis Healy was not tasked with thoroughly examining facts in Washington’s shooting, consultants noted that the incident was a significant influence on people who spoke to them.
Washington, who had a valid concealed carry permit, intervened in a fight between his friend and another group of men during the June incident. During the scuffle, he fell to the ground.
“He’s got a gun,” someone could be heard saying in video of the incident.
It’s unclear in the video whether Washington had a gun in his hand as he got up.
“Drop the gun!” an officer yelled several times. “We’ll shoot you!”
One second after that warning, officers opened fire.
Washington’s death marked the first shooting by a campus police officer since the university board’s controversial decision to arm its campus officers.
A grand jury ultimately decided not to charge officers Dewey and McKenzie for killing Washington, determining the shooting was a lawful act of self-defense.
PSU has separately hired OIRGroup to conduct a review of the shooting itself. While no date has been mentioned for that report to come out, campus officials have suggested it will come out this winter.
Washington was not a student at PSU, and the shooting took place on the edge of the university’s campus in downtown Portland. The Margolis Healy report noted that the concern about police violence and armed officers comes in a national context, and that some of the mistrust of PSU administration is likely an extension of broader problems with police use of force.
“In our opinion, this sentiment of mistrust is, in part, a product of the national landscape regarding police-community relations, especially with regard to communities of color, but also including other communities of traditionally disenfranchised people,” the report said.
The consultants’ report concludes with a series of recommendations. A press release from PSU administration highlighted 10 main themes, and said they’d be the focus of discussion at a March 7 meeting of the Board of Trustees.
Training was high on that list, including better training for new officers, as well as racial and biased-based policing training. PSU also drew attention to the suggested connections with mental health professionals, as well as homelessness efforts among PSU’s researchers and city officials.