A new student and faculty group called DISARM OSU has been formed in response to Oregon State University’s decision to implement a new in-house police force, with goals to defund the force and distribute the money to other student resources on campus.
This group has come to be as Americans across the nation are standing up against police brutality and the funding of police organizations. Oregon State Police engaged in using excessive force last October during an arrest of a student, causing former University President Ed Ray to terminate OSU’s contract with OSP.
OSU’s Chief Financial Officer Michael Green announced in an email statement on May 12 that OSU administration had chosen Edgar Rodriguez as the university’s interim associate vice president for public safety and chief of police beginning May 25—though Rodriguez has decided to leave his position at OSU effective Aug. 21. Rodriguez has worked previously with campus police at Quinnipiac University, as well as with the Connecticut State Police.
In his initial statement, Rodriguez wrote in an email addressed to all faculty members and students that he will be implementing a Community Oriented Results and Expectation Committee, “to address their issues and concerns through cooperative effort and review of community needs, and by discussing expectations and responses relative to public safety services, quality-of-life issues and community-oriented policing.”
After OSU’s initial termination of its contract with OSP, the university announced on July 16, that it plans to temporarily renew the contract through January 1, 2021, to allow more time to develop the new campus police unit—causing protest among students. DISARM OSU is a group of both students and faculty members who are fighting against the installment of the unit.
“[The] primary aim of this group currently is to rightfully reduce the police spending on campus by 50% immediately and to redistribute the funds to better prevent crime on campus through community services and to essential services for underrepresented populations,” said Vasiliki Touhouliotis, OSU faculty and member of DISARM.
Touhouliotis said the plans to redistribute funds could allow for anti-racist education for all students, removing buildings with racist ties, strengthening the bias response team and expanding faculty diversity and retention.
The force will tentatively be made of 17 sergeants and their officers, making the total funding of the new unit to approximately $1.1 million, which does not take into account the associate vice president for public safety and chief of police’s salary, equipment or training costs.
“This spending is excessive and ridiculous, being OSU cut the pay of nearly the entirety of its faculty; rescinded COLA from graduate workers; shut down the OSU pharmacy; and refuses to adequately fund and grow essential services such as CAPS, the CGE Hardship Fund and the Bias Response Team—citing economic strife as a result of the COVID-19 crisis,” Touhouliotis said.
The group is asking for an immediate defunding of 50%, and a total defunding of the force by 2023, giving administrators enough time to create a crime prevention and response team, similar to CAHOOTS in Eugene, Ore. This program not only deals with mental health-related crises but has also created trauma-informed de-escalation techniques and saves the city an average of $8.5 million per year.
Protesting has played a large role in letting students and faculty hear the concerns of DISARM, the most recent being last month, in which participants gathered around Kerr Administration Building and planted flowers to get administrator’s attention, followed by testimonials from participants who have experienced racial bias at OSU.
“The planting of the flowers was symbolic of the change we advocate for: defunding the police is constructive, not destructive,” said Nat Young, student and member of DISARM. “The reduction of a campus police force, barring the legally necessary reactor attendants, would free up large amounts of funding and time that could allow for the formation of various projects or groups that [the] current budget does not allow, such as an unarmed crisis response force, more social resources for struggling students and a larger mental health care team.”