Portland State University (PSU) has resumed allowing its campus police officers to carry guns following a period of unarmed patrols that began in 2021.
According to PSU officials, the decision to arm officers again was made in response to an increase in the number of weapons appearing on campus and a lack of assistance from the weakened Portland Police Bureau due to increased demands for officers across the city.
PSU President Stephen Percy said in a message to students, faculty and staff that the change was necessary to “protect our campus.”
“Our officers are encountering an increasing number of weapons on and near campus and they are receiving limited assistance from the Portland Police Bureau due to increased demands for officers across the city,” Percy said. “These factors have necessitated a change in practice on the part of campus police officers: In order to protect our campus, our nine sworn officers are having to go on most patrols carrying arms.”
PSU had previously moved to unarmed patrols in response to protests following the fatal police shooting of Jason Washington in 2018.
PSU had agreed to shift to unarmed campus patrols for the school year starting in fall 2020 but delayed the change until the following year due to staffing concerns.
On February 14, campus officers were given the authority to carry guns at their discretion by PSU Police Chief Willie Halliburton.
“February 14 was the effective date when Chief Halliburton shifted from making the call to arm patrols as necessary (something that was allowed under the unarmed patrol policy from the beginning) to allowing officers to arm at their discretion,” said Christina Williams, PSU’s director of strategic communications.
Nine officers will be present on campus. It is their decision whether to arm themselves.
The university did not publicly announce the change until April 11, almost two months later. Williams said that the president’s office and the university’s Public Safety Oversight Committee were informed prior to the announcement.
Despite the change, Halliburton and Percy have not abandoned the idea of unarmed patrols in the future.
“While this may seem like a step backward in our ongoing efforts to achieve lasting change, it does not alter our commitment to actively pursue a campus safety system that prizes de-escalation, respects the dignity of our diverse campus community and finds a path to return to regular unarmed patrols on campus,” Percy wrote.
The PPB, which ordinarily would supplement campus police officer duties with an armed response, has been stretched thin due to low staffing levels.