UOPD takes next steps toward community service model

UOPD patrol vehicle

After listening to community members and conducting an audit, the UO Police Department has launched a diversity, equity and inclusion initiative designed to implement the recommendations of an independent review of the agency.

For the past five years, the UOPD has been evolving to be a more inclusive and community-oriented law enforcement agency, its leaders say. Chief Matt Carmichael has, since arriving in 2016, helped implement changes to create more oversight and transparency, gain national accreditation, and engage more with UO students and the campus community.

That evolution is continuing this year, at a time of difficult conversations both nationally and locally about the role of police.

The department also is in the process of hiring 12 new community service officers, including nine newly created positions. Those new unarmed positions are replacing seven sworn police officer positions under a change announced last year by UO President Michael Schill following months of discussion within the university community. UOPD hopes to have all the new community service officers hired before the start of fall term.

“Developing a department that earns the trust of our community through our service and how we approach policing has always been UOPD’s key mission,” Carmichael said. “In many ways, we are still a young agency and we’re continuing to grow. I’m excited about these steps and the positive path we are on.”

The diversity, equity and inclusion initiative is starting with the formation of a diversity oversight committee guided by John D. Johnson III, interim director of engagement, who brings years of experience in both law enforcement and public education work. The committee will include student, faculty and staff representatives. Nominations are still being accepted.

The committee will oversee the implementation of the outside audit recommendations for improving diversity, equity and inclusion in the department. Those recommendations included work on UOPD hiring and retention, employee training, and bolstering department engagement with outside community groups.

Johnson, as a former university police lieutenant and now a high school instructional aide to students with emotional disturbances, said he is eager to engage with students and expand the public’s understanding of UOPD’s diversity, equity and inclusion work.

“That’s the biggest thing at this point,” he said. “Everyone needs to know we’re here, we’re working on this and we’re serious about it. I’m committed to listening to people, including people who want to rail on police and who are upset at what they’ve seen.”

“My question, in this time of change, is: ‘What does better look like to you?’” Johnson added.

The outside community is also taking a lead role in the hiring of the 12 new community service officers. The primary hiring panels for the positions will include UO staff, students and representatives of outside community groups that advocate for people of color, but no UOPD employees.

“These positions are really community-oriented, so we thought that outside input would be critical in selecting our new officers,” said Benjamin McNulty, UOPD executive director of safety. “I’m committed to the idea that we drive this thing together.”

A total of 93 people have applied for the 12 vacancies — 11 on the Eugene campus and one in Portland — according to McNulty, who hopes to complete the hiring by midsummer.

Community service officers at UOPD will no longer wear police-style uniforms. Instead, they will all wear the same, easily recognizable attire, with the goal of making those officers and the vehicles they drive feel more approachable to the campus community.

Community service officers will take the lead on security patrols of campus, particularly buildings used by students, like the Erb Memorial Union, Knight Library and residence halls. Service officers will also take the lead in responding to all nonemergency calls that do not require the presence of a police officer.

Armed police officers will continue to be the first responders to all police calls and will be available to respond quickly to other incidents when needed.

In other department news:

  • UOPD was recently recognized for its policy development and training work. The department received a Gold Award from Lexipol, a national organization that helps develop policy for first responders around the country. The gold level award means the UOPD has issued timely policy updates to stay compliant with laws and best practices; has consistently disseminated those policies to officers; and has ensured officers are trained on policies with daily refresher quizzes.
  • Carmichael is preparing to launch, with the help of his executive student assistants, a new podcast. “UOPD Chats” is designed to be an open forum about the work the agency does, a source of safety and crime prevention tips, and a place for discussions about timely national and campus law enforcement issues.

By Saul Hubbard, University Communications