The University of Oregon’s changes to the campus police department are not sitting well with some students.
Before announcing the new policies, the UO said President Michael Schill spoke to some members of ASUO, faculty and administration, and groups that advocated for UOPD to be disarmed and defunded—such as protesters who chained themselves to Johnson Hall in October.
With the new policies, the UO will hire more community service officers (CSOs), and a consultant to develop new proposals for the UO safety system. Seven sworn-officer positions will be eliminated and nine new CSO positions will be added. UOPD currently has 20 armed officers, one of which is part-time, and four CSOs, one of which is also part-time.
Shill said since the salaries for UOPD officers are typically higher than unarmed CSOs, the university will be able to hire more CSOs over time.
“The way that we’re going to be handling the reduction in armed police officers isn’t through letting people off or terminating people,” said Schill. “We have lots of open positions right now, we won’t fill those positions. Instead what we’ll do is we’ll use the salary savings to hire CSOs.”
Schill said the hiring process will likely begin within the next few weeks and into 2021. Though he doesn’t want to rush the process, as to make sure they hire people who are trained to work in the community.
“We have to hire the right people,” said Schill. “We want to hire highly skilled folks. We want to have a more diverse workforce, we want to make sure that people are trained appropriately. I’m very proud of the UOPD, and I want to make sure that we continue to deliver terrific services to our students, our faculty, and our staff. Even if we’re reconfigured a little bit.”
However, in an email to KLCC, the anonymous group Disarm UO said they do not support the new reforms.
“There is absolutely no evidence that arming school cops increases overall safety or improves relationships within our community,” wrote Disarm UO. “As long as there are armed campus police on our campus, student safety (especially BIPOC student safety) is at risk. Disarm UO stands firm in our belief that guns do not belong on school grounds or college campuses. Instead, what actually keeps students and the community safe are the bolstering up of campus resources and non-police community safety initiatives.”
One of Disarm UO’s demands is for the UO to publicly release all complaints against UOPD. They’ve also asked for a more extensive and robust use of force review board. And Schill seems to agree with them.
“We actually do have a process for reviewing allegations of either misconduct or force,” said Schill. “But what we thought about was that we could do better. And we wanted to have a process that would lead us to an even more robust review process.”
As it currently stands, Schill said the review board is more of an administrative committee.
When working with the consultant, Schill said the process will include discussions about a new accountability review board, additional changes to the functions of armed police officers, as well as efforts to provide a more robust mental health response.
“Once we get the consultant chosen—and we’re going to be looking for an organization that has both experience with police, but also experience with community groups and civil rights issues,” said Schill. “Once we get that group chosen and under a contract, we’re hoping to have a very inclusive process. One that would engage, certainly, the entire University of Oregon community, and likely the community beyond our walls.”
But Disarm UO said that when it comes to the consultant process, they are not holding their breath.
“The University's effort to engage in a dialogue with students, faculty, staff, and the broader community around this announced reform has been insufficient,” wrote Disarm UO. “While we aren't getting our hopes up yet about the consultant, we hope at the very least there will be intentional outreach to student organizations and identity unions that have been historically ignored by the university within conversations around campus police.”
Disarm UO said they will continue to advocate for UOPD to be completely defunded.
“There must be a clear, accessible way for students who have been victims of UOPD violence to seek redress,” wrote Disarm UO. “We will continue to advocate for shifting resources away from the UOPD entirely, not just bolstering up a review board that puts an administrative band-aid over the real issue.”