Plans to disarm Portland State campus police on hold after too many quit

Portland State University previously announced plans to disarm campus police.

Now, the university says those plans are on hold while it hires more officers after others quit their jobs.

Portland State University announced in August its plan to disarm campus police officers by replacing their firearms with tasers, but those plans have been put on a temporary hold.

The plan to disarm officers was announced earlier in 2020 after rallies and protesters at PSU called for justice for Jason Washington, who was killed by officers in 2018. Campus Reform reported on the efforts of PSU students and staff to disarm officers in 2019. 

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Campus Police Chief Willie Halliburton stated that in order for unarmed officers to be safe, the school would need two officers for every shift, which hasn’t been possible due to the retirement or resignation of several officers. 

In a video message addressing the issue, Halliburton stated, “I am fully committed to transforming this police agency into a unit that will achieve these goals. We’ll do this without carrying weapons while on patrol.”

“When we announced last August that we will begin unarmed patrol sometime this fall, I knew it would be a challenging and ambitious timeline,” said Halliburton. “I had commitment from my officers and from the University.”

“Since then, staff turnover and administrative delays, those things have held up this process of making sure my officers can safely and legally fulfill their duties without firearms, and keeping this campus secure in the midst of ongoing unrest in Portland,” he added.

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Halliburton discussed the rioting in Portland on Oct. 11, when the windows of the Campus Public Safety Office were smashed: “On October 11th the Campus Public Safety Office was severely damaged, our officers and our staff inside were traumatized. For me, I take this personal, someone has to show what peace looks like. We cannot continue to fight aggression with aggression.” 

Halliburton’s decision to disarm officers was announced in August as part of a holistic plan for campus safety. According to that plan, officers would be armed with tasers instead of firearms and would call Portland Police to respond to any incident involving a weapon.

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Universities and colleges across the country have similarly called for the disarming and even abolition of campus police. Campus Reform has reported that Arizona State University, the University of Chicago, and Stanford University are just some of the schools that have discussed and pushed for disarming or abolishing the campus police. 

PSU President Stephen Percy published a full statement discussing how the school is working toward disarming officers.

“In August, we announced that our Campus Public Safety Police Officers will move to unarmed patrols, and Chief Willie Halliburton began the process of implementing the necessary policies and practices. It is an important new approach to policing and represents a commitment by CPSO to align our public safety practices with our institutional ethos and to help the PSU community heal,” Percy said.

“We understand that this issue is of significant interest to our campus community. We commit to the following actions to keep the community informed,” Percy continued, listing “campus-wide progress reports,” and “online updates regarding the hiring progress of the PSU Campus Public Safety Office,” as among those actions. 

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Halliburton told Campus Reform that he is “focused on the task at hand and that is fulfilling my promise to our community with unarmed patrols...”

“Hiring is one part of the mission but equally important are policies and agreements from our law enforcement partners that keeps [us] all safe. I wish this could be done overnight but it is a process that we have to go through to make our vision work. I am working tirelessly to make this a reality on our campus, please allow me the time to do this right. That’s all I’m asking,” he added.

One week after PSU made the announcement to continue working toward disarming police, protesters broke windows at the Public Safety Office and two other campus buildings. Protesters were chanting Jason Washington during what was called a “direct action” march. 

Campus Reform reached out to PSU and Campus Public Safety for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication. 

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @mn_turn