There are a lot of fresh faces at the University of Oregon Police Department.
This fall, the department hired nine community service officers, newly created positions that replace seven sworn police officer positions within the agency.
Unlike sworn officers, community service officers are unarmed. Early next year, once the nine new officers have completed their training, they will perform different duties on campus, including building security checks, foot and bike patrols in areas heavily used by students, responding to misdemeanor crime reports, and community outreach and engagement.
Rather than police-style uniforms, the officers will wear easily recognizable polo shirts and black pants, with the goal of making them more approachable to all members of the UO campus community.
The shift to additional unarmed officers — influenced by feedback from UO students, national concerns about brutality and racial bias in policing, and a review of UOPD’s calls for service data — is a substantial move for the agency, said UOPD Chief Matt Carmichael.
Carmichael said he sees the change as a tremendous opportunity for UOPD to embrace the goals of community policing, without losing the critical functions that only the agency’s remaining sworn officers can perform to keep the UO campuses safe.
“To be clear, community service officers do not replace police officers and are not meant to serve in that role. They’re two very different positions,” Carmichael said. “This is a new program essentially; the style of training is different, the job tasks are different. It will build on and advance our police department’s commitment to community policing.”UOPD’s new community service officers were hired using a new process: their primary hiring panels included UO employees, students and representatives of outside community groups that advocate for people of color, but no UOPD employees.
The new group of nine officers is younger and more diverse than the UOPD staff as a whole, and it includes four recent alumni of the university. Three community service officer vacancies also remain to be filled, including two positions at UO Portland.
“Hiring from within the UO community is a huge help towards the goals of this program,” said Ben McNulty, UOPD executive director of security, who oversees the community service officers on a day-to-day basis. “Who knows our students better than our former students?”
The new community service officers are going through an extensive training program, which includes learning about campus security protocols, UOPD and UO policy, and mandatory implicit bias and de-escalation training with the state.
Rebekah Galick, a UO graduate who was one of just three UOPD community service officers prior to the arrival of the new hires, is assisting those officers in finding their feet.
“All the people we’ve hired are fantastic,” Galick said. “I’m really excited to see what they’re going to do for our community.”
Rex Manu, a 2020 UO graduate, chose to apply to become a community service officer because of the deep affection he developed for the UO during his time as a university student-athlete.
“I feel like being in this position will allow me to help out this community that I love when it needs me,” he said.
Manu said he was also inspired by the positive interactions he had with Galick when he was still a student.
“Her customer service approach was really refreshing” he said. “She was easy to talk to and approachable.”
Manu is excited to start operating as a fully-fledged community service officer, along with his colleagues, in early 2022, but said he’s grateful for the in-depth training the officers are going through this fall.
“It’s been a real eye-opener, honestly, just because there’s so much that goes into keeping our campus safe and secure,” he said. With their expanded numbers, community service officers will be able to take on a bigger role within UOPD.
Agency leadership has detailed a long list of job duties and responsibilities that will fall primarily to community services officers, and they have created a detailed matrix of what type of officers should respond to different calls for service.
But McNulty said he’s eager for input from the campus community about how the new officers should be used and where they should be deployed.
“The long-term success of this revamped community service officer program is going to rely heavily on us listening to what our students’ and employees’ needs are,” he said.
For the first time, the Eugene campus will have 24/7 coverage by community service officers, something that Galick said is “really exciting.”
For example, the Knight Library is open 24/7 during typical finals weeks, she said, meaning community service officers can now be on-site there during nighttime hours.
It will also mean a UOPD community service officer is always available to provide a late-night security escort home for a student, or to help jumpstart a car, or to assist someone locked out of a classroom or building, Galick added.
Part of the goal of bringing in more community service officers is to ensure that all UO students and employees feel comfortable accessing the important safety and security services that UOPD provides.
“I know, in my experience, I have seen students who don’t feel comfortable coming to me to ask for help, but they have gone to my community service officers or student assistants,” Carmichael said. “Our reality is we need to ensure all students have equitable access to safety services.”
Galick agreed. In her experience, most UO community members feel safe approaching uniformed police officers, she said. But the agency needs “to reach folks from different walks of life,” Galick added.
“It’s our responsibility to meet folks where they’re at,” she said.
As community service officers and their vehicles become more commonplace around, both Manu and Galick have a similar message to UO community members.
“Flag us down and get to know us,” Galick said.
Added Manu: “We’re here for your safety.”
—By Saul Hubbard, University Communications