Portland State University to Disarm Campus Police Amid Unrest in the City

August 16, 2020 Updated: August 16, 2020

Portland State University (PSU) recently announced that starting this fall, its public safety officers will patrol the campus unarmed, as part of the university’s initiative to “re-imagine campus safety.”

The move comes as protests, often deteriorated into violent assaults against local and federal law enforcement officers and property, have continued in Portland, Oregon, for nearly 80 nights following the death of George Floyd. Violent crimes have also soared across the city, with the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) investigating 15 deadly shootings and stabbings in July—the city’s highest number of single-month homicide investigations in three decades.

“Over the past few weeks we have listened to many voices across our campus,” PSU President Stephen Percy wrote in an Aug. 13 statement. “The calls for change that we are hearing at PSU are ringing out across our nation. We must find a new way to protect the safety of our community, one that eliminates systemic racism and promotes the dignity of all who come to our urban campus.”

The PSU’s public safety officers will replace their guns with “non-lethal tasers,” said Campus Public Safety Chief Willie Halliburton in a short video explaining the decision. He also noted that the university will rely on the PPB to respond to high risk emergency situations.

“We will have police officers available. We will have them here, but they will be unarmed,” said Halliburton. “If there’s a call that requires an armed presence, Portland Police Bureau has agreed to assist us.”

The PPB, alongside other police departments in the nation’s major cities, has become the target of the growing “defund the police” movement. In June, the Portland City Council approve a last-minute change to the city’s 2020-21 budget, diverting more than $15 million from the PPB to other public programs.

DisarmPSU, a group of students, staff, and others affiliated with the PSU community, said it was “thrilled” by the change. The group, which has been advocating to disarm the university’s campus police force for the past seven years, gained more attention and support after PSU’s safety officers in 2018 shot and killed Jason Washington, a black Navy veteran who was holding a gun during a drunken street brawl near the PSU campus.

“This campaign was a seven year uphill battle, and it came at a high cost,” the group wrote in a statement. “Even the death of Jason Washington wasn’t enough to convince the university to disarm. Today, we are reminded that we don’t win by appealing to the goodwill of those in power; we win through organizing and unwavering persistence.”