EUGENE, Ore. - Dozens of people gathered in the Fir Room at the University of Oregon Wednesday to voice their support or opposition to the establishment of a sworn campus police force.
In the 2011 Oregon legislative session, the Oregon University System asks lawmakers to allow each campus to consider transitioning into a fully sworn police agency.
"If this legislation goes through it provides us with some benefits such as training and certified police officers that we don’t currently have access to," said Carolyn McDermed of the UO Department of Public Safety (DPS).
If the bills pass, DPS would begin to transition into an independent agency that could conduct criminal investigations, file criminal charges, and transport people to jail among other agency duties that DPS currently relies on the Eugene Police Department for.
DPS said that having a sworn police force would allow services to be tailored uniquely to the university and to the campus needs.
According to DPS, in 2010 officers contacted an average of 184 suspicious people per month, made 28 warrant arrests - and in December alone made contact with 10 registered sex offenders.
But DPS officials said none of those subjects were armed - and that has some asking why a police agency is needed.
"It seems like DPS is providing a solution to a problem that hasn’t yet been defined," said UO student and Students for Sensible Drug Policy Group member Sam Chapman. "We do not need guns to be on campus at all. There’s no reason. There’s no past history that shows that excessive force of even Tasers is even really necessary."
Chapman said the bills could be a gateway to having armed officers on campus. Arming officers with handguns or Tasers is not part of either bill. That decision would be made by University and Oregon University System leaders.
Another question brought up by those who oppose the bill regards to cost. According to an Oregon University System fiscal impact statement, the establishment of a police agency would have "minimal impact."
According to the report, over time the agency would cost the University less money than continuing with the current model. University officials estimate a savings of $73,000 over 6 years.
DPS officials said those savings can be attributed to officer retention. According to the impact statement, those savings would cover the training of new officers.
But some like Sam Chapman aren’t sold on the idea just yet.
"These numbers need to be looked at very closely," said Chapman. "It’s a little early to know exactly what is going to happen, so to say that it’s going to save money or it’s not is just a little cloudy at the moment."
Chapman said students plan to form a coalition to make their opinions heard. He said from there they may proceed to circling a petition to influence the university to maintain the current DPS model.
"We would really like them to ask us how we feel rather than making the jump towards that ‘Oh, you need more public safety’," said Chapman.