The Portland State University board of trustees voted Thursday for the school to have an armed police force. The measure passed 9-3. The meeting was the culmination of over two years of discussions about how to improve public safety on the campus.
The Portland State University Board of Trustees voted last December to tentatively authorize having sworn police officers as part of their security force. The university said, “trained, armed officers will be added to the existing unarmed campus security force over the next three years.”
PSU won’t be the first college in the state to have an armed police force. Both the University of Oregon and OHSU have them as part of their schools’ security teams, but the topic has been very controversial within the PSU community.
Dana Ghazi, Associated Students of PSU president, said that having such an important vote during finals week was very unfortunate timing. She stated that students were already overwhelmed with their studies. Ghazi had asked the board to delay the vote.
“Considering that we are in a learning space, it really seems bizarre to me to have guns around students who are there to be intellectually stimulated,” she said.
Ghazi also believes having armed police will ultimately work against PSU’s goal of diversifying the student population.
She said that given the national climate after high-profile clashes between between police and African American communities, students of color may not be comfortable around an armed police force.
“We’re not listening to our students of color at all,” she said. “I don’t understand how we can really not listen to something that is so important and touches students’ lives in a very, very real way.”
Scott Gallagher, director of communication at PSU, said the vote was the culmination of several years of reaching out to faculty, staff and students.
“We understand their concerns. That’s why we went through a long process of reaching out to all of campus over a number of years and doing our due diligence,” he said. “Regardless of the decision, students have been involved…and students, faculty and staff — whatever it is decided — would continue to be involved in what occurs around campus public safety.”
PSU Chief of Public Safety Phil Zerzan said he thinks creating an armed police force is a good idea.
“Policing in America has become increasingly complex and campus policing is even more so,” said Zerzan. “I think that the complexities and the demands are better served by having a department that is part of the community.”
Zerzan agreed with Gallagher that the process has been inclusive. “I think the board of trustees is well positioned to make a very thoughtful and responsible decision.”