Campus Policing Initiative bill moves to Oregon House floor

The Oregon House Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday to pass Senate Bill 405, the legislation that would authorize the University to form a police department, sending it to the full House with no new amendments and a “do pass” recommendation.

The bill would allow the University to request authorization from the Oregon State Board of Higher Education to form a police department and have sworn police officers on campus. The legislation would authorize up to 50 police officers on campus.

Currently, Department of Public Safety officers are considered “special campus security officers,” without many of the powers of sworn police officers, including the ability to carry weapons. If the legislation is implemented, DPS would transition from its current organizational structure to a “bifurcated” system of police officers and lower-level security officers, who would lack the probable-cause arrest authority that DPS officers currently have, over a period of about six years. The first police officers would appear on campus in as little as a few months.

Rep. Jeff Barker (D-Aloha), who co-chairs the Judiciary Committee, said although concerns were raised about the estimated costs of the bill and student opposition to University police forces, only three members voted against the bill.

“It makes sense to me to have your own police department,” Barker said. “I believe it will pass on the floor.”

One of those opponents was Rep. Gene Whisnant (R-Sunriver), who thought more discussion was necessary before moving forward. Though Whisnant described himself as a public safety supporter, he thought the proposal was too expensive.

“I thought it was an overkill,” Whisnant said.

Reps. Mary Nolan (D-Portland) and Carolyn Tomei (D-Milwaukie) also voted against moving the bill to the full House.

ASUO President Ben Eckstein is one of those concerned students. Eckstein said a number of people were still wary of the bill and looked forward to further discussion on the House floor.

“I know that there are members on both sides with reservations,” Eckstein said.

DPS Chief Doug Tripp was glad to see the bill move on and is looking forward to its passage.

“This is an incredibly important campus safety initiative that is long overdue,” Tripp said. “We continue to believe that this legislation has a significant amount of benefits.”

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-Eugene), was passed by the Senate in April by a vote of 19-11. All 16 Democrats and three Republicans voted in favor; the remaining Republicans voted against.

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