Editorial: Campus police mostly good for University
The University got the final go-ahead for the majority of its proposal to turn the Department of Public Safety into an actual police force Friday — sans full approval of firearms and with some concern retained about the final costs.
It’s an issue which has garnered widespread concern from community observers and students alike in the year since it was publicly discussed last August. And yet, the decision — unanimously made by the Board of Higher Education — will come without authorization to arm the new officers, and is therefore, an overall good decision for the University.
Jim Francesconi, a former Portland city commissioner, was one of the few board members who didn’t see it necessary to require another meeting to discuss arming them. The Oregonian’s Bill Graves wrote that Francesconi didn’t understand having a police force without guns, adding a brief reference to last week’s Oregon Court of Appeals ruling.
“The job of public safety just got a lot harder when you can’t ban guns on campuses,” Francesconi said, according to The Oregonian.
It’s easy to conflate these two issues, due to how soon these two decisions were made, and though they should not be compared with each other, a campus discussion about guns or armed campus officers will require both. Here’s why: Francesconi was right in saying that public safety has become harder after the statewide campus gun ban was lifted; at the same time, the premise that you can’t ban guns on campus is false.
The court’s ruling took away the Oregon University System’s rule which outright prohibited guns at member institutions while it maintained that the Board had the right to govern the conduct of people while on campus properties. Individual institutions still maintain the right to discuss a potential ban on guns on campus.
With some reservations, we support the decision the board made. Although the differences between a public safety agency and a police force are slight, they are crucial, and as we look broadly, it seems only logical that such a transformation is taking place now. The University and Oregon State University are the only schools in the Pacific-12 Conference not to have a sworn police force. We are among the 2 percent of public universities in the country with more than 15,000 students without one.
This is not “Everyone else is jumping off a bridge” but instead, “We’re growing up, and here’s a model.” The streamlining that having a University police force will provide will give a far more efficient experience for University students. Meanwhile, having a police department responsible to us allows us to be responsive when something does happen on campus.
We have nearly 24,000 students at the University. That’s larger than many towns with police departments. There is some merit to the argument we are simply too large to be solely under the jurisdiction of Eugene Police Department.
Above and beyond these specifics, we are centrally concerned with student, faculty, staff and community input in these discussions. Students at large are not comfortable with DPS being armed, at least not with the issue on its face. And if the University wants to keep its students comfortable with attending classes now and in the future, it needs to ensure that decisions are influenced by the community — and that the eventual police force is governed by students.