UOPD Community Service Officer Rex Manu operates out of the stations closest to campus. The presence of Community Service Officers on campus sparks controversies amongst student population (Maddie Stellingwerf/Emerald)

ASUO has not decided whether they should support the University of Oregon Police Department’s Community Service Officers, opting instead to hear the opinions of the student body before making a decision.

This comes after an expansion of CSOs on campus in November 2020 and recent meetings between ASUO and UOPD Chief Matthew Carmichael about the role.

According to the job application listed on the UOPD website, the purpose of CSOs “is to protect the campus community through the use of proactive prevention and outreach strategies.” A UOPD document highlighting job descriptions said CSOs are “unarmed, non-sworn UOPD employees.”

While CSOs are already working on campus, ASUO wants to collect student feedback before showing its support for the role.

The expansion of the CSO role

Carmichael said the CSOs have been around since UOPD’s inception in 2012. He said in late 2020, UOPD expanded the amount of CSO positions, which allowed them to reevaluate the roles and responsibilities that came with that position. CSOs control traffic, enforce parking regulations and do campus foot patrols and community engagement, among other duties, according to the UOPD website.

Carmichael said the changes to the role began after hearing feedback from student organizations like ASUO. The feedback followed Black Lives Matter protests and the disarm UOPD movement in the summer of 2020. “Some of the topics included ‘You know, Chief, could we have the unarmed, non-sworn type of folks that could be primarily responsible for things like patrolling in high concentrated student areas?’” he said.

“We opted to make a substantial change to the organization,” Carmichael said, “which was diverting resources toward our community service officer program to cover the very substantial role that they could play on campus.”

Carmichael said UOPD wanted to ensure the safety of students on campus by finding a balance between the CSOs and the regular police force.

“It’s not as simple to say, ‘Oh we just did this.’ It was obviously demonstrating our commitment to community policing, which means listening to your community,” Carmichael said.

He said UOPD shifted funding into the CSO program, raising the number of CSOs to 14. Two of the 14 CSOs are at the UO Portland campus, leaving 12 at the Eugene campus.

Carmichael said today’s CSO program is not the same from when the role was created. “The style of training is different; the job tasks are different,” he said. “Our push has been that community policing philosophy.”

Opinions within ASUO

ASUO president Isaiah Boyd said he urges ASUO to avoid jumping into supporting or opposing CSOs. 

“I think a lot of our decisions come out of impulse,” he said. “Let's connect with students first.” 

Boyd said he wants to connect with UO students that might be affected by CSOs before ASUO decides to give its support. Boyd said he would like to make a connection between the student body and campus security rather than having ASUO speak for the student body.

ASUO senator Annika Mayne said she thinks CSOs are a problematic issue on campus. “To be honest, there is a real lack of clarity around what exactly the CSO’s roles are, what they are going to be doing, where they are going to be operating and what specific training they’ll have,” she said.

Mayne said she is concerned due to the “back and forth” nature with the UOPD and Carmichael about the exact roles of the CSOs.

She said one of her biggest concerns was if CSOs would be regularly stationed in the EMU and other buildings.

“They’re supposed to be at the direct response for an emergency, and they’re unarmed,” she said. “Why isn’t that just a crisis counselor?”

Mayne said she is not satisfied with the CSOs’ training. “I don’t think it needs to be UOPD funded, and I don’t think they need to be part of a police force,” she said.

Transparency with ASUO and the student body

Carmichael said the biggest aid when communicating information about the CSO role has been the UOPD matrix document.

“I’m a firm believer in putting things in writing, and I’ve said this before with ASUO,” Carmichael said. “It's one thing for me to say it, but I want to make sure you see it in writing.”

The CSO page on the UOPD website also displays the CSO 2021 Training Program document for public viewing.

“I am all ears for feedback and input from our community as they look at that call for service matrix on potentially what they recommend we could do differently,” Carmichael said.

Negative feedback to some aspects of the CSO position are being acted on as well. Carmichael said when student representatives felt uneasy about fixed CSO positions within the EMU, UOPD paused that decision all together.

Being a CSO

Rex Manu is a UO alum and a CSO who has been on the job for a few months. “A lot of my schedule so far has been training, which has been a real eye-opener,” he said. Manu said a typical day consists of spending as much time on campus as possible.

Manu said duties include offering courtesy rides for students and foot patrols around campus, as well as routine drives around campus. He said CSOs also provide traffic control for campus sports events.

Executive Director of Security Ben McNulty said there are university facilities off campus that CSOs can respond to in case of emergencies like fire panel activations.

“We are very multifaceted, but we definitely go hand-in-hand with police officers, and we definitely want to continue to build that trust with the campus community,” Manu said.

Manu said during his time as a student he had seen now-colleague Rebekah Galick multiple times on campus. He praised “her customer service and how she interacted every time with myself, with other people.”

“It was very inspirational,” he said.

“As a former athlete and student of the university, I’ve grown to love this community, so I feel like being in this position as a CSO will allow me to continue to serve and help out the community,” Manu said.

To distinguish CSOs from regular officers, UOPD has made changes to their everyday attire.

Manu said an everyday carry includes a belt that carries most of their equipment and an internal safety vest which is worn under the shirt to maintain a more casual feel to the uniform.

Carmichael said CSO attire is is constantly being updated.

“Belt equipment includes flashlights, radios, a pouch for gloves, some key keepers, and we are permitted to carry OC or pepper spray which we also get extensive training on,” he said.

Going forward

In the future, Carmichael hopes CSOs can fill specific roles in high stakes situations on campus.

During the hostage situation on Nov. 4 — where an armed individual held two students hostage in Hamilton residence hall — Carmichael said members from the Campus Planning and Facilities Management team helped to control traffic and direct pedestrian traffic. While CSOs were not involved in that incident, Carmichael hopes they can fill CPFM’s shoes going forward.

“In that case if CSOs would have been on, I would’ve used CSOs to provide that level of support which is traffic control on keeping people out of the area,” Carmichael said.

Boyd said ASUO will be hosting a “couch talk” for students to discuss topics including CSOs. “Let’s air out the dirty laundry. So talk about campus safety as an issue, perhaps dive into COVID,” Boyd said.

To collect student feedback for the couch talk, Boyd said ASUO will be putting out a survey early this week.

Boyd said ASUO was originally planning to have a town hall to discuss these issues, but decided to call it a “couch talk” to make it feel more inviting for students to speak.

He said ASUO will invite the appropriate staff based on the feedback received from the survey to speak at the couch talk, which, he said, is slated for winter term.

Carmichael said he is looking forward to the couch talk and is in full support. “Quite frankly the long term success of this particular program is gonna rely heavily on us listening to what our students' needs are,” he said.

Porter Wheeler contributed reporting to this story.