As the question of security in schools arises more and more often, some higher education institutions are making changes. The state Board of Higher Education in Oregon has recently voted unanimously to allow officers on the University of Oregon in Eugene grounds to carry guns.
The Associated Press reported that police officers who are members of the newly formed University of Oregon Police Department will be able to carry on campus. According to the news source, University of Oregon President Mike Gottfredson has said armed officers are necessary to ensure the safety and security of students and employees.
According to Police Magazine, until 2011, the state's public universities were not allowed to have police departments. So far, none of the other public universities in the state have requested to create an armed law enforcement agency.
The move by the University of Oregon is controversial. While most public four-year schools in the United States have campus police, according to a 2008 National Association of College and University Business Officers, it's not common in Oregon. The AP reported that the previously mentioned survey also found that 88 percent of those colleges and universities had sworn police officers and 76 percent had armed officers.
"It's very standard for campuses of our size, we have close to 25,000 students, to have a police department," said Jamie Moffitt, UO vice president for finance and administration, according to the news source.
Previous to this decision, the University of Oregon maintained contracts with armed state troopers to provide police service. However, the officers, who did carry firearms, did not provide 24-hour coverage and the agreement stipulated that law enforcement could leave the campus to answer higher-priority calls in the city of Eugene.
The decision to arm officers on campus is still being debated among officials despite the recent decision, reported the AP. Students have expressed their concern with the decision – more than three-quarters who voted in a 2011 referendum said the department should remain without sworn officers or have access to firearms.
"It's a contentious issue," Sam Dotters-Katz, the incoming student body president, told the news source. "And I'll tell you this, my two vice presidents don't support the arming of the OPD, and I do. I don't make any statements that this is the clear opinion of the student body. This is my opinion because of what I've seen and what I've learned about the complex security needs we face."
While the university has a history of little violent crime, some officials, including Dotters-Katz feel that creating an on-campus police department and arming officers will continue this trend and maintain the safety of students and faculty if a situation was to ever develop.
The creation of an armed campus police department will require the university to seek out experts in the public safety and law enforcement field that are experienced with managing and maintaining campus police agencies. Department leaders will need to develop clear use of force policies and implement a legally defensible systems to track officer training, certifications and compliance from the first day an officer is hired to his or her last day on the job.
Careful compliance tracking will be essential to ensure minimal litigation risk, especially as officials, parents and students look to measure the newly created department's performance.
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