You might not have noticed but there’s a noticeable difference between the officers on campus as opposed to the police you find downtown.
In 2011 the University of Oregon transitioned from using security guards to a dedicated police force. While their authority is that of any other police officer they are not currently permitted to carry firearms. The University of Oregon stands as the only school in the PAC 12 without an armed police force on its campus.
“This is the first place I’ve worked where it was a question.” Said Police Lieutenant Andrew Bechdolt; a campus police officer who has been in law enforcement for 23 years.
The biggest concern for the campus police is people from outside the university coming onto campus and committing crimes, harassing students or destroying campus property. While the officers on campus have the authority to arrest an individual they can’t actually transport them. Instead, officers have to call the Eugene Police Department to pick up the person they’ve apprehended. In some instances even letting them go with a citation. In instances of domestic violence near campus officers are unable to respond without carrying firearms.
“Police officers get killed on a domestic violence call every day and that’s when they have a firearm, when something goes sideways.” Bechdolt said.
In cases of a burglary on campus the officers will try to make sure the area is clear if there is no sign of forced entry. If there are signs of forced entry they will have to wait for the Eugene Police Department to arrive. They are also unable to perform traffic stops. Bechdolt recalled a situation where two public safety officers were almost run over by a drunk driver. When the driver stumbled out of the car they apprehended the driver but then had to wait for the Eugene Police Department to arrive in order to transport him.
Bechdolt had previously been a supervisor at the Salem police academy. Officers are required to have 16 weeks of training on before receiving another 16 weeks of field training. Part of this training is a system called the Range 3000; a training simulator that uses a blu-ray projector and a replica firearms to act out scenarios that an officer may encounter while on duty. These situations can be altered on-the-fly by a supervising officer during these scenarios.
For the last day of training, officers must performs a live exercise which includes 30 role-players, 35 students and the use of live firearms loaded with paint rounds.
“There’s firearms here already, there has been, we have a contract with the Eugene Police. When they come to campus now they don’t leave their guns in their car, right? They get out of their car and they have their gun with them. They have the same exact training our officers are going to have. That I have. We aren’t going to hire some flunky off the street and say ‘here’s a gun’” Bechdolt said.
Currently the officers carry pepper spray and batons. According to Kelly McIver, the Communications Director and Public Information Officer for the campus police, there had been more concern about Tasers and their misuse.
“It’s always surprising to me the number of times that they don’t work because the person has a lot of clothing on, or because there isn’t a good connection made or the person is just able to somehow sustain the shock that they get from that and still go on to commit some act of violent or flee, what have you. It’s just not a substitute.” McIver said.
Officers would have to purchase their own firearms so the university would not actually pay for the guns themselves and the state pays for the officer’s training. The additional cost to the school budget is roughly $100,000 to adjust for the pay difference between a sworn police officer and a security guard. This estimate does not take into account cost of living adjustments and in taken from the general fund.
The proposal to arm the police will be presented by the university will be presented to the State Board of Higher Education later this month.
The ASUO president Sam Dotters-Katz, a law student and shotgun owner, is personally in favor of the arming the campus police and find it to be a necessary measure. According to Dotters-Katz, his two vice presidents Azia Calderhead and Greg Mills are opposed to the plan to arm campus police and extending their capabilities though there isn’t any formal opposition to the proposal within the ASUO.
“I know that if I got busted at a party on 17th and Mill I’d rather have a student conduct code issue than a criminal record.”
Dotters-Katz had been on a ride-along with campus police and was told that violent assaults in the nearby graveyard were reported to the Eugene police but otherwise not handled by campus police.
“Some folks who come from underrepresented communities where there are poor backgrounds and where police presence [is] heavier sometimes view police in a more negative light than folks that come from a more affluent background. Where they don’t deal with police very much. What I can do in that respect is work to ensure that the UOPD undertakes, or is engaged in, real meaningful cultural competency training.” Dotters-Katz said.
Dotters-Katz does not believe that this use of extended power would not become standard practice to abuse these extended powers but would “react strongly” if that became common practice amongst campus police.
According to McIver the university would have to authorize officers to pursue an investigation off campus. In cases of nearby burglary, theft – even sexual assault – the Eugene police are often stretched too thin to respond to the situation or perform a thorough investigation.
Until the State Board of Higher Education can rule on this change to the university’s policy regarding its officers, the campus police remain without firearms and thus a limited scope of what they can and cannot do for the community in regards to violent crime on campus.
Ultimately the situation will soon be in the board’s hands so there is still a chance that the proposal is benched or outright denied. Though currently there is no formal opposition to the proposal as it stands.