PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland State University Interim President Stephen Percy announced that officers on campus would continue to be armed with guns, as he outlined a new campus public safety plan for the university.
The announcement came during a meeting of the PSU Board of Trustees on Thursday morning.
Percy said the plan will holistically address public safety at the college, and doesn't require action from the PSU Board of Trustees before its implementation.
The plan keeps 10 sworn officers carrying firearms on campus, something that students and others connected to PSU wanted to change. There are currently six on campus and the budget allows the university to hire four more, but they have faced recruitment challenges.
The university introduced armed officers to campus in 2015. Last year the PSU officer-involved shooting death of 45-year-old Jason Washington rekindled opposition to having officers with firearms on campus.
Washington's wife, Michelle, laid out her heartache to the board of trustees and university president. She and her family are disappointed in the decision to keep officers armed.
"To you guys he's just one person, but to us he was our world. And our world has been destroyed," Michelle told university leaders, "and these students back here told you guys years ago this would happen and no one has listened. And you continue to not listen and I pray to God that no one else has to go through what we've gone through."
"I know that the decision has been made and there's nothing we can do but I pray that one day you guys change your mind. Hopefully sooner than later before it happens to anybody else," Washington said.
Students held signs saying "Disarm PSU" and "Boycott PSU"; their disappointment and anger echoed throughout the room as they boo'd Percy's announcement.
Alumna Olivia Pace became an activist and joined the fight to oppose armed campus security years ago. She continues to fight that battle.
Thursday, she said the university did not prioritize Justice for the Washington family or minority communities.
"It's always framed in this way of some students feel this way, some students feel feel this way. But at the end of the day, how do the students who are subject to this kind of violence feel about this?" Pace told KGW, "And the way black and brown students - the way black and brown people in this community and community leaders feel about this decision has always been: this is not making our campus safer, this is putting black, brown, marginalized people at risk on our campus."
Percy says arming officers on the urban campus is part of the solution to creating a safer campus for students, staff, faculty and the community.
"We’ve tried very hard to listen to a lot of different points of views; again, talking to students, looking at surveys. Some students, in this evermore violent society we are living in, there have been people who’ve said to me they feel they need someone - at least some resources on campus - that could respond to an incident that involved a weapon or threat of use of a weapon," Percy said in a press conference after the announcement.
The campus safety plan also calls for more oversight and it includes adding six more unarmed public safety officers that Percy said would handle the majority of calls. That would bring the total number of unarmed officers to ten.
There will also be 10 "student safety ambassadors," students paid to answer questions, perform safety escorts and other tasks.
Parts of the plan were applauded; officers will receive more training on mental health awareness and crisis response, de-escalation techniques to avoid use of lethal force, as well as how to handle the homeless population.
"We learned people who experience homelessness may be better served by health and support services rather than campus public safety response," Percy said in the announcement.