BEND, Ore. - Central Oregon Community College's public safety officers were being accused of overstepping their bounds by area prosecutors and police, but significant progress was made at a meeting Tuesday to resolve those issues and clarify their roles..
"The No. 1 issue is the extent that COCC public safety is acting like a police department,” said Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel, “The Legislature has made clear that community college safety programs do not have all the powers of a full police department.”
Hummel, Bend Police Chief Jim Porter and campus administrators met Tuesday to tackle those issues..
“One of the key points that we were looking at is how their uniforms were equipped, how their vehicles were equipped,” Porter said,
“Somebody might confuse them with actually being stopped by a police officer, when they did not by the Legislature have the authority to make a traffic stop or a person stop,” he said.
All parties agreed the meeting was very productive. Several of the changes taking place immediately will involve the public safety vehicles used to patrol the campus.
“Blue lights are obviously allowed on police cars. They’re technically allowed on public safety vehicles. Well, we’re disabling all the blue lights. We will not have blue lights on any of our vehicles,” said Ron Paradis, COCC's executive director of college relations.
"Cages" to separate the passenger and front seat areas have also been removed from inside the cars, and campus public safety officers will no longer make arrests.
An agreement was not reached on whether the COCC uniforms would change.
“When we look at other community colleges in Oregon and other institutions across the country, our uniforms are in line with many of those,” Paradis said.
But Porter said, “We want to make sure they’re distinguished from a police officer. Right now, you approach one of them from behind, their uniforms are very close to ours. They wear a badge like ours. They’re stepping out of a vehicle with overhead lights on it. It would give the person the impression that they’re being stopped by a police officer.”
Both sides said they will continue to work with each other to reach agreement on the remaining issues.
Hummel said, “There will be further meetings with the hope that at the end of the process, COCC’s campus safety program is fully compliant with the laws and keeping our community safe.”.
Porter said these aren’t new concerns, and these talks began in early 2015. But the alleged murder of Kaylee Sawyer by public safety officer Edwin Lara has put the changes on the fast track.