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UO changes its policing.

Byline: Jack Moran The Register-Guard

Most campus crime at the University of Oregon doesn't require a full-on police response.

That factors into why the UO has stopped paying the city of Eugene to station four city police officers at the university's Department of Public Safety - an arrangement that's existed for about 30 years.

The new contract between the UO and the city reduces the number of on-campus Eugene officers to just one - whose job primarily involves working with campus officers on crime issues affecting the university's periphery and surrounding neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, several additional campus officers are being hired as part of a reorganization effort within the public safety department.

The changes will help the department "be more culturally aligned with the campus community," said Carolyn McDermed, the department's deputy director.

"We've taken a fresh look at what (the Department of Public Safety) is doing, and we think this is the right direction to go," McDermed said.

A consultant's report completed for Eugene police in 2007 showed that the UO had fewer officers on campus with full police powers than any other Pac-10 school.

A state law prohibits Oregon's public universities from employing fully armed officers. Oregon State University contracts with Oregon State Police for on-campus law enforcement services.

Campus officers have limited police powers to stop and frisk suspects, and make arrests. They are not permitted to carry guns, but do use batons and pepper spray.

McDermed said campus officers are equipped to handle most incidents that arise at the UO. The most common crime issues are low-level offenses such as bicycle and laptop computer theft.

"Our officers stay busy doing a lot of work that doesn't need a full police response," McDermed said.

Emma Kallaway, UO student body president, said she agrees with the move to make campus officers the preeminent law enforcers at the university.

The UO's public safety department "is fully capable of working with students" on crime issues, Kallaway said.

The UO is using the money it paid the city for police to hire additional campus officers.

The force is expected to grow to include nearly 40 officers within the next two years - nearly triple the 14 employed by the UO as recently as two years ago, McDermed said.

The staffing increase has allowed some campus officers to begin working on a new crime prevention team whose focus is eliminating root causes of crime at the university. Others now work with Eugene police on "edge-campus" issues.

Meanwhile, Eugene officials appear ready to grant campus officers additional authority.

The city is considering a proposal that would allow the officers to cite people into Eugene Municipal Court for some misdemeanors.

At this point, the city only authorizes campus officers to issue citations for violations punishable by a fine.

If the plan is approved, Eugene police would no longer have to issue citations for on-campus misdemeanors following a UO officer's investigation.

As far as the city is concerned, the pros and cons of the new deal with the university balance out, Eugene police Capt. Rich Stronach said.

"It has been nice to have our department represented in what is a large and busy part of the city, and to have that presence on campus," Stronach said. "But at the same time, there's less administration for us because we don't have to manage a campus patrol team."

The three officers formerly assigned to the UO campus have slid into vacant patrol positions, Stronach said.

He pointed out that while Eugene officers won't hesitate to respond when a serious incident arises on campus, some police responses may not be as swift as UO officials are accustomed to.

"Now, (the university) has to call us to get assistance, and they'll have to get in line with all the rest of the citizens," he said.

McDermed said that before deciding to alter the longstanding agreement with the city, UO officials considered how the change might affect safety in a hypothetical, worst-case scenario that would require armed officers to assume a lead role on campus.

"We did talk about that, but we know that if (Eugene police) are needed, they're going to respond quickly," she said. "Our officers will respond to the best of their ability."
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Title Annotation:City/Region; The university cuts back city police coverage and plans to add more campus officers in a reorganization
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 7, 2009
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