Hiring and training officers for campus environment

UOPD officer saves life

Police officers at the University of Oregon are the same as those at other Oregon law enforcement agencies – except that they're different.

UO Police Department officers have the same professional standards, requirements and authorities as any police in the state. But they're also chosen for their specific aptitude toward working well in a university environment.

"Campus policing is different than city policing," UOPD Interim Chief Carolyn McDermed said. "You need to have someone who is capable and prepared to face the same risks as any police, but also know that your job most days is going to be educating people and getting voluntary compliance with the law and university rules. We need people who are friendly, approachable and great problem-solvers, and at the same time professional and thorough."

The first step is an intense hiring process. Candidates have to show how they can support the UO and UOPD missions, and must excel through multiple interviews, then pass a rigorous background check, and physical and psychological screenings.

Transitioning from a public safety officer to a police officer is a time-consuming process that can take candidates away from their families for four months at the state’s police academy.

Other first-time officers must also complete the state's four-month, full-time basic police academy in Salem. That includes classes on state law, emergency driving, physical fitness and agility, defensive tactics and tools, firearms proficiency, communication skills and de-escalation, field judgment and other policing topics.

After graduating from the academy, new officers return for another four months of field training—working with local police officers on real calls for service, to put their practice to work in the real world. Currently, UOPD officers do part of their field training with Eugene Police, so officers can get armed police experience (off campus in Eugene) and experience a wider variety of calls.

Once field training and their initial certification is complete, officers have further training with UOPD in first aid, CPR and Automated External Defibrillators, multicultural competency, dealing with campus problem-solving, Clery Act and Title IX compliance, and other department-specific preparation.

"This is where we really put our stamp on things," UOPD Captain Pete Deshpande said. "As a former student here, the son of a UO professor, a Eugene Police officer working around campus, and having my own student here now, I know this is a special environment. We want to serve campus and work with its unique style."

Police officers from other agencies in the state can transfer their certification to UOPD and begin working as police immediately, as Deshpande did last fall after coming from the Eugene Police Department. Those who have been law enforcement officers in the state as recently as two and a half years earlier, but not longer than five years, can take state refresher tests to "re-start" their certification, as did McDermed, the interim chief – who also served previously at EPD.

Even though UOPD police officers aren't permitted to be armed with guns while on duty, state certification standards require them to train regularly with firearms, and to qualify on proficiency tests (UOPD requires qualifying twice per year, while the state standard is only once).

The 11 current UOPD police officers are all supervisors: sergeants, lieutenants, the captain and the chief. While they currently supervise public safety officers, the department will soon post as many as four openings for front-line police officers. Compensation for UOPD police officers will be competitive with other local agencies.

"First, we want to be able to hire the best officers who are a good fit for our campus," McDermed said. "We want people with strong communication and people skills, and those people tend to be in high demand. Second, we don't want to train our officers up and then lose them to the first better-paying job that opens up around here. We're going to put so much effort into finding the right people for our university, we want them to stay."