Students to be given opportunity to sound off on UOPD’s controversial campaign to carry guns

(Photo illustration by Nate Makuch)

(Photo illustration by Nate Makuch)

Posted by Colton Totland on Monday, Feb. 4 at 7:14 am.

On a fall night some 15 years ago, Pete Deshpande parked his patrol car near campus and stepped out, armed at the hip, yet stalked by fear.

One block away at 17th and Hilyard Street, a hundred rioters awaited police in the streets. They had overrun the intersection and as officers approached had begun hurling rocks.

A loud speaker blared a warning — to no avail — and the first round of tear gas lobbed into the crowd. Amid rising fumes, rioters reached to throw them back.

“I remember not wanting to go there,” Deshpande recalled of the night, just one in an eventful 22-year career with the Eugene Police Department. “Dropping aside my ego… there were many times as an officer when there was an element of fear.”

And without a gun, that anxiety is even higher. That is the consensus at the University of Oregon Police Department, where Desphande is now a captain. Propelled by concerns over safety and aided by a growing budget, the department is taking steps to obtain firearms for the first time in UO history.

Despite decade-low crime rates and not a single weapons-related incident reported since 2007, UOPD plans to approach the campus community and state officials in the coming weeks with a simple request: the right to carry guns.

UOPD has scheduled three public meetings to take place throughout the rest of this term on the issue of guns: on Monday, Feb. 11 from 6-7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 26 from 4:30-6 p.m. and Wednesday, March 6 from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.

Yet while officials say they want feedback, it is clear from the onset that the debate will come down to state board — not public — approval.

“I don’t want people to think it’s going to unfold like a voter popularity contest,” UOPD spokesman Kelly McIver said. “The interest is in having a true discussion. But I don’t think things are working on a consensus model where everybody has to be happy with the decision.”

The discussion over firearms is the last significant hurdle for UOPD, which until last fall was known as the Department of Public Safety, in becoming a full-fledged police force.

Efforts really began in 2010, when officials approached state legislators with an idea for a bill, one that would allow police departments to exist on public universities. The idea garnered support by portraying UO and Oregon State University as the only Pac-10 schools without an armed force.

A bill was signed into law in June 2011, after which DPS immediately sought approval to become a police department. The state granted the request in October and offered access to training programs, but denied the right to firearms.

Since then, UOPD has invested in new uniforms, new equipment and three new leaders, all from EPD. Captain Deshpande, former captain Chuck Tilby and former sergeant Lee Thoming are now overseeing the transition, together earning $240,000 a year, according to UO documents.

In addition, UOPD plans to hire six more officers over the next several months, with hopes of having a force of 25 armed officers in four years’ time. Officials say they are already prioritizing candidates who have been trained to wield firearms.

Despite the planning, the debate over firearms is still far from over. Following the series of public meetings this term, UOPD must appeal to the Oregon State Board of Higher Education and justify the need for guns on campus. Officials say they intend to make that presentation this spring.

Yet crime data for the UO aggregated by the U.S. Department of Education reveals a far safer campus now than in the past. Crime rates from the last four years pale in comparison to the first half of the decade, with significant drops in burglary, robbery and aggravated assault. Between 2002 and 2007, 38 people per 10,000 students were victims of crime; between 2008 and 2011, that number was cut down to 19.

Even more surprising is the steady drop in alcohol and drug citations. 2011 saw the lowest number of alcohol violations — 998 for the year — since 2001. That is 400 fewer than the tally in 2007, when the UO had 4,000 fewer students. Drug violations have also dropped substantially, with the 217 cases in 2011 being less than half the 564 reported in 2007.

While the UO remains among the top 10 in the country for these citations among large public universities, the last four years have borne much less work for UOPD, begging the question of whether more officers — or more lethal weapons — are truly necessary.

Officials maintain that without firearms, the agency is limited in the ways it can serve. Unarmed UOPD officers must rely on EPD to transport anyone to a municipal or county jail. Officers are discouraged from venturing far off campus, and the department cannot conduct investigations into cases of physical and sexual assault — the most consistent problem at the UO, with at least six reported cases in each of the last four years.

“This is about having a department that is prioritizing its services to meet the campus’s culture and needs,” said Carolyn McDermed, UOPD interim chief and EPD veteran. “There have always been armed police officers here — EPD responds here — but this would mean the officers are accountable to the university.”

UO and OSU remain the only Pac-12 schools without university police, though OSU has a force of 10 state troopers stationed near campus and the UO has traditionally enjoyed EPD assistance. The schools have two of the lowest student populations and reside in two of the smallest college cities.

At the same time, Oregon law enforcement is deeply understaffed by national comparisons. In 2010, the average number of city police per 10,000 people was nearly 22 officers. In Oregon, that number was 14; in Eugene, just 12.

Low staff numbers affect the campus community, UOPD officials say. The department is eager to increase their responsibilities in dealing with crime beyond the reach of EPD.

“For certain types of calls, officers do have a sense of exposure. And there are certain types of calls that we can’t go to right now,” Deshpande said. “We need to have firearms because that is the industry standard. It’s not to deal with students — it’s to protect students.”

Officials say the main purpose of UOPD’s three public forums will be to outline the need for firearms but will also be a chance for the community to express any concerns. Students and faculty are encouraged to attend.

“There is a lot of opportunity here for crime; we’re inviting,” said McDermed, who will be attending the meetings. “When officers encounter someone and see suspicious activity, they’re in the moment — they need to be equipped with the tools necessary to do the job.”

  • uomatters

    Nicely balanced article. For a proposed compromise see

  • Bryn Dennehy

    Wow. This is a shocking piece of propaganda. “Armed at the hip, yet stalked by fear”? Too bad I was at that “riot”, and this article is completely misleading. Those “hundreds of rioters” were merely drunk college kids yelling “GO DUCKS” after we beat USC. As I was quoted saying in the Register Guard the following day, the police used an entirely unnecessary excess of force that night. I had tear gas explode in my face and was hit with a police baton multiple times merely because I was standing on the corner celebrating with everyone else in the neighborhood. AFTER the storm troopers shot tear gas into the crowd, it devolved into a riot. “Stalked by fear”? More like couldn’t wait to get out the toys and use them. These guys get a rush out of this stuff, that’s why they joined the force in the first place. So ya, let’s give the campus police guns, what a great idea. It’s not like police have EVER misused or abused their weapons or authority before. Especially considering, according to the article, that we have had decade low crime rates on campus. If the University is really concerned about the safety of its students, it would allow them to carry their own means of self defense. But no, just like the Aurora theater, Sandyhook Elementary, and Virginia Tech, the University of Oregon is a “gun free zone”.

    This is merely a part of the national agenda to arm the police state and force the citizens to remain defenseless. I can’t believe I keep reading the Daily Emerald…

    • Jay-Z

      I guess I’m wondering if you made it past the anecdotal lede…

      It’s amazing what different reactions people can have from reading the same story. I finished the article and was struck by how unnecessary giving DPS guns would actually be, given the numerical data the reporter used showing the rapid decrease in crime and citations.
      “Stalked by fear” could also be interpreted as the writer poking fun at the police officer. It’s not like drunk college kids are that scary. I managed to interact with them every weekend for four years and survive. So yeah, I think you’re reading meaning into this story from your own pre-existing beliefs that Obama is trying to take your guns away and turn the U.S. into a police state.

    • Anonymous

      You were at the riot 15 years ago? And you still check/write on the daily em’s website? Move on old man.

  • guest

    “I don’t think things are working on a consensus model where everybody has to be happy with the decision.”

    Trust me, Kelly, they won’t be.

  • Edward Placencia

    I’ve never heard of a rioter admit that the police used “just the right amount of force”. I’m dumbfounded that the UOPD wasn’t already armed. The time to arm police is before they need them not after. Any argument against this logic is simply propaganda

  • morons, almost all of you

    Holy crap!!! Giving guns to police officers is outrageous!!! I hope someone is going to go to the Eugene City Council and demand that the Eugene police department not be allowed to carry their guns when they are on campus. I mean really, why should fully trained and sworn police officers need to carry guns? Crime is down all over the country so there is obviously no need for armed police anywhere. (This is sarcasm obviously, but because most of you live in an ivory tower and then come to campus where a big magic bubble protects you from anything bad ever happening, I felt I should clarify. ) Stop whining and face reality. Police carry guns, it is a fact of life. Do you really believe it is because of “drunk college kids?” The same people that are arrested and released from the jail on a regular basis are on campus. Look at the amount of registered predatory sex offenders living within a block of campus. Look at the crime that happens every day. It is great that crime rates on campus are down, but is that because they just decided not to be criminals anymore, or has DPS been doing that good of a job? If it is the latter, why would you be worried about them carrying guns when they will be fully sworn and certified police officers? And just how many students have been peppersprayed and beaten with batons just because DPS is bored or wants to use their “toys?” Quit whining, grow up and join the rest of us in the real world.

  • mkelley

    What will UOPD do if there is a shooter on campus? Tell them to stop?

  • Baldr Odinson

    This is a solution looking for a problem. As the article points out, there has been no incident that would require a gun to be drawn. And the U.O., along with campuses nationwide, are statistically safer from gun crimes than the communities surrounding them. Every student and faculty member I’ve talked to about this have been adamantly opposed, which begs the question: Who is this security force representing?

    • ProOregun

      There were no incidents that would have required Virginia Tech to use a gun before a massacre. The UOPD will probably never need to nor use their weapons. But thats not the point. The point is that if they ever have to, they should have weapons. Thats what the left and anti-gun people dont get. You dont own a firearm because you intend on using it all the time and being John Wayne. You have it so that god forbid something terrible occurs, you have a means to respond.

  • UOSplatters

    I recall during the discussion regarding creating a campus police force it was clear that DPS was seeking something different than what EPD had to offer. Now I see four of the department’s leadership are all former EPD. Seems like the effort to create a campus centric PD has been derailed by EPD old guard. Looks like DPS has lost it way under the new leadership. Should have staid the course.

  • Zachary Vishanoff

    Emerald……..Do not make the first three sentences so dumb that any reader simply cannot continue…..better luck next failure.

  • Zachary Vishanoff


  • Jeremy

    People need to calm down. Any UOPD officer who would have a gun are trained police officers. UO and OSU are the only Pac-12 Schools without armed police. UO is the only school in the Association of American Universities to be unarmed. How often do you hear about campus police using guns against students in those schools? Cops are not going to just randomly pull a gun on a kid a party. As far as lowered crime rates, how many shooting incidents required weapons in Connecticut elementary schools prior to last year? It only takes one psycho to eliminate the validity of all crime statistics. Better safe than sorry in my opinion.