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Sun’s out, guns out: UOPD will begin carrying firearms this summer

In the early morning hours, it’s so quiet you can hear a pin drop on the University of Oregon campus. This is especially true during the summer, when the freshmen who usually inhabit the dorms are home for the summer and houses in surrounding residential areas are in-between renters.

The streets are deserted, save for the vehicle turning onto University Street from 18th Avenue. The speed limit along the stretch of road between Pioneer Cemetery and McArthur Court is 15 mph. This car’s speedometer displays a number twice that. In most jurisdictions, this driver would see flashing lights in his or her rear view mirror. But not in the UO Police Department’s territory — at least not immediately — not yet.

Routine traffic stops, such as speeding vehicles, are not situations the University’s police force is equipped to handle. That’s because there’s no way to tell what will happen once the driver is pulled over. In a worst case scenario, the person is armed and the average campus security patrol officer isn’t allowed to carry a gun.

“This is an important next step that allows us to respond to more types of calls,” UOPD spokesman Kelly McIver said.

Before the Oregon State Board of Higher Education meeting on June 21, the law prohibited on-duty officers from carrying firearms on the UO campus. Now it’s just a matter of protocol, policy and training. During that Friday meeting, the board unanimously approved UOPD’s long-standing request to arm its patrol force. But that doesn’t mean campus security officers will walk around with guns in a holster, at least not yet.

“Are people going to see 11 officers on campus who are armed? Nope,” UOPD chief Carolyn McDermed said. “We don’t have that capacity.”

The folks who have gone through the training necessary to carry firearms don’t do regular patrols — they all hold supervisory positions. And McIver doesn’t anticipate the department will define processes and protocol for anybody on duty to begin carrying before Tuesday. Line police officers — patrol officers within UOPD who are authorized to carry a firearm — won’t be on duty until Oct. 1 at the earliest, McIver said. By the time the department is fully staffed, there should be 25 armed patrol officers.

The department began hiring those line officers in May and is currently accepting applications. Once hired, they go through the same training as Eugene police and other agencies in the state. There’s background checks, followed by field training, firearm training, multicultural training, the list goes on.

“It’s not like you can wave a magic wand and say, ‘OK, you’re a police officer now,'” McIver said.

Reciprocal response

The weekend before classes start is notorious for its parties. Throw a football game into the mix and it’s a recipe for disaster.

Situations like that of Sept. 24, 2010, the day the Ducks won their first conference game of the season against Arizona State, will be more manageable for UOPD.

Several parties in the West University neighborhood near 13th Avenue and Ferry Street were thrown that night. As time went on, partygoers spilled into the streets and, before long. things got out of hand. Some partiers began boxing. Others broke into cars. And groups began pulling street signs out of their foundations.

Eugene, Springfield and Oregon State police all responded. UOPD, at the time still known as the Department of Public Safety, couldn’t reciprocate. Providing complimentary responses to EPD is just one thing McIver says an armed UOPD will be able to do.

The incident occurred months after the UO and Oregon State University approached the state legislature seeking permission to institute police departments on their campuses.  Officials from both schools cited the fact that Oregon’s two largest universities were the only schools in the Pac-10 without such a force. That legislation passed in June 2011 and the UO sought to implement its own police force immediately.

The Department of Public Safety began its transition into the University of Oregon Police Department Jan. 1, 2012.

Since then, UOPD has purchased 20 Glocks and holsters — priced at $494 and $116, respectively — and begun firearm training for its supervisory personnel.

UOPD officials met with ASUO in February of this year to discuss the proposal.

Students were vociferous on the matter, from Twitter to comments sections in The Emerald, that an armed police force worked against the best interest of students. When UOPD hosted public forums to address student concerns, attendance was far lower than that dissent may have suggested: 10 students showed up.

Sophomore Rudy Zarosinski, although he couldn’t make it to the open forums because they were scheduled when he had class, is one such student opposed to UOPD carrying firearms on campus.

“I don’t see any reason why we need firearms on campus,” he said.

Citing situations in which students get rowdy, even violent, Zarosinski says non-lethal force would be the way he prefers security handle those situations.

Prior to the state board’s decision, Oregon was the only Pac-12 school without armed security personnel and one of two Association of American Universities schools with enrollment totaling more than 15,000 bearing that distinction. The other was Portland State University.


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Eder Campuzano

Eder Campuzano

Eder is the Emerald's director of audience engagement. His work has appeared in The Oregonian, The Statesman Journal and the News-Register in McMinnville. He was also a founding member of the University of Oregon's competitive Pokémon league.