PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Armed police officers will be on the University of Oregon campus when students return to Eugene in the fall.
The state Board of Higher Education voted unanimously Friday to allow officers with the newly formed University of Oregon Police Department to carry guns.
University president Mike Gottfredson said armed officers are needed to ensure the safety and security of students and employees. The panel agreed, but board member Jim Francesconi warned that Portland has been divided by several controversial police shootings in the past decade.
If such an incident happens on campus, “it is going to be incredibly traumatic,” said Francesconi, a former Portland city commissioner and mayoral candidate.
University officers now carry batons, pepper spray and restraints, and call city of Eugene police if more powerful weapons are needed. School officials say officers must have guns to confront an active shooter and to safely perform routine police tasks, such as conducting traffic stops and transporting suspects to jail.
Most public four-year schools in the United State have campus police, according to a 2008 survey by the National Association of College and University Business Officers. The survey also found that 88 percent had sworn officers and 76 percent had armed officers.
“It’s very standard for campuses of our size, we have close to 25,000 students, to have a police department,” said Jamie Moffitt, UO vice president for finance and administration.
But it hasn’t been standard in Oregon. The state’s seven public universities did not have the authority to create campus departments until 2011, when the University of Oregon asked the state Legislature to change the law.
None of the other six universities has approached the board about developing an armed police force. Oregon State University, Oregon’s Pac-12 Conference rival, contracts to have armed state troopers provide police service on its Corvallis campus.
Before July 2011, the University of Oregon had a similar arrangement with Eugene Police Department. The city officers, who had guns, did not provide 24-hour coverage and the contract stipulated that they could leave campus to answer higher-priority calls in Eugene.
With enrollment growing and the city confronting budget problems, the university decided its own sworn police force would better serve the 295-acre campus. The university police department expects to have about 25 sworn officers when fully staffed. It has already purchased 20 Glock handguns.
Though no opponents of an armed police force traveled to Portland for Friday’s meeting, the idea is not universally embraced. More than three-quarters of the students who voted in a 2011 campus referendum said the department should remain without sworn officers or access to firearms.
Comments submitted more recently to the university note that the campus has little violent crime. “I cannot recall any incident where I felt that the situation would have turned out better if only someone with a gun would have gotten there sooner,” wrote an opponent identified as a graduate student.
The police department, led by Chief Carolyn McDermed, spent the past year conducting campus forums to ease concerns ranging from racial profiling to the potential chilling of free expression.
Sam Dotters-Katz, the incoming student body president, won his election despite his strong support for armed officers. He said student safety is the “most important promise” the university can make to parents and a ride-along with officers showed him the challenges.
“It’s a contentious issue,” Dotters-Katz said. “And I’ll tell you this, my two vice presidents don’t support the arming of the OPD, and I do.
“I don’t make any statements that this is the clear opinion of the student body,” he added. “This is my opinion because of what I’ve seen and what I’ve learned about the complex security needs we face.”
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.