Oregon State University’s plans to develop an in-house police force have been put on hold.
In a statement on June 30, former OSU President Ed Ray announced the decision to extend Oregon State Police services through the end of the year.
“Mindful of the change in policing long overdue and required in America—and fully emphasized by the May 25 killing of George Floyd by police—two weeks ago we put on hold the development of OSU’s law enforcement program and related hiring of personnel until we fully engage the community in dialogue and public safety design programs,” Ray said in the statement. “At the same time, we must continue to protect the university community and provide emergency response to reported incidents on the Corvallis campus, including matters such as robbery, sexual assault, vehicle accidents, building and vehicle break-ins, and other reports of violence against people, while providing potential law enforcement response for the OSU research nuclear reactor.”
Charlene Alexander, vice president, chief diversity officer and co-chair of the Public Safety Advisory Committee, said the killing of Floyd by police in May had an impact on the university’s Public Safety Committee and its goals for its new in-house police force.
“It was important for the committee to pause and reflect on our values as an institution, to ensure that our efforts were consistent with the mission of the university, that our public safety leadership under Chief Rodriguez and his design for our public safety were consistent with those values,” Alexander said via email.
Paul Odenthal, senior associate vice president for administration, said community discussions are of continued importance in the wake of recent police violence and in the creation of OSU’s in-house police force, such as a town hall held on July 2.
“The questions centered around what public safety and law enforcement will look like in the future as the university creates its own in-house police department. Questions addressed during the sessions included such topics as officer training, accountability, oversight and community engagement,” Odenthal said via email. “There were more questions submitted than time allowed to be covered during the dialogue. These questions will be published in the near future on the Department of Public Safety website.”
Michael Green, vice president for Finance Administration and chief financial officer, said the town hall and other conversations help ensure that the university continues to hear from the community as it strives to build a public safety program that reflects OSU’s values and mission.
“The killing of George Floyd caused all of us to pause and reflect on our values regarding diversity, inclusivity, justice, Black Lives Matter and public safety. This is a time to review how we are proceeding with transitioning our law enforcement responsibilities to help make sure we proceed on the right path,” Green said via email. “We do not have the luxury of a great deal of time, given that the OSP extension is for six months and hiring and training law enforcement officers takes many months.”
Odenthal said he appreciates the participation and questions submitted by the community, and that the feedback and input is helpful when striving to develop a public safety program to “meet the needs of our community.”
“Dialogue and discussion on public safety cannot be a one-time conversation. There has to be an ongoing engagement to align the delivery of public safety to the values and principles of OSU,” Odenthal said via email. “Our goal is not just providing safety but contributing to the overall success of our students, faculty and staff.”
Green also said community engagement sessions, such as the last town hall meeting, help shape the programming of the overall public safety program, and provides the university with the community’s needs moving forward. Green said a key takeaway from recent discussions was a critical need for accountability, transparency and robust oversight of OSU’s law enforcement program.
“I think that a public safety program at a university has a number of important dimensions that have to be considered as we make decisions over the next weeks and months,” Green said via email. “There is a need to consider resources for mental health and crisis intervention, and the coordination of all resources in our community focused on the safety of our students, faculty, staff and visitors, in shaping OSU’s safety program; including public safety and law enforcement.”
Looking forward, Alexander said OSU has a number of community engagement sessions scheduled to introduce OSU’s new Chief of Police and Associate Vice President for Public Safety Edgar Rodriguez to the community, and to learn about his plans for the design and function of the department.
Chief Rodriguez did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.