Central Oregon Community College and the city of Bend have reached an agreement regarding the authority of the college’s campus security force after negotiations that lasted more than 18 months.
A memorandum of understanding was signed May 22 by college officials, Bend Police Chief Jim Porter and City Manager Eric King. The agreement is merely a guide and either party can pull out after giving 30 days notice.
“It’s a starting point,” Porter said. “We are going to meet and review again in eight months, and establish monthly meetings to ensure the application of (the agreement).”
Conversations started in 2015, when Porter became aware of a COCC employee who hid a camera phone set to capture video in a women’s bathroom on campus. Rather than immediately turn the investigation over to the police, campus security officers interrogated the suspect and then gave back his phone. The case was never prosecuted.
After COCC campus security officer Edwin Lara was charged with murdering Kaylee Sawyer of Bend in July, scrutiny of the college’s enforcement operations picked up. Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel found many of the college’s operations to be illegal, and threatened prosecution.
Under the agreement, the college will call Bend Police as quickly as possible when notified of a crime. It has promised not to carry out investigations off campus property, and to use uniforms and vehicles that do not closely resemble Bend Police.
“In the long run, we were able to get somewhere where I think everybody is comfortable,” COCC spokesman Ron Paradis said.
During negotiations, college officials told campus security they were no longer to make arrests under the “private person arrest” statute. Hummel had called the practice into question, saying the ability of a government employee to arrest someone under the statute had never been litigated in Oregon, and COCC was doing so on “shaky ground.”
Paradis said as of now, COCC officers are still instructed to refrain from making arrests, however, the signed agreement reserves their right to do so.
Paradis said in the future, if there is a situation where the safety of the property, staff or students of COCC is in jeopardy, the college would like to have that option.
Another possibly contentious part of the agreement involves public records. The college is bound by federal regulations in the Clery and Family Educational Rights and Privacy acts. Both have regulations on withholding private information about students.
Conversations regarding the transferring of documents between the police department and college picked up when the college declined to share records with the police, citing exemptions in Clery and FERPA. The new agreement begins with seven paragraphs detailing what exemptions could be used for public records requests, and what documents would be labeled “confidential” as a result of Clery and FERPA regulations.
While that might seem unnecessary since the state has already outlined what is a public record and all possible exemptions in a 490-page manual on public records and open meetings law, city attorney Ian Leitheiser said the goal of including that in the agreement was to clarify information sharing.
Under the agreement, if the college shared a document it had labeled confidential under authority set out in Oregon Revised Statute 192.501, that confidentiality would carry through once Bend Police had the document, and it would not be released via a public records request. Under the agreement, Bend Police would then say it is not the creator of the record, and advise COCC of the request.
However, when asked, both Paradis and Porter could not say whether that exemption would ever be used for nonconfidential records, such as denying a record request purely because the agency didn’t create the record, even if it possessed it.
Oregon law is clear that you do not have to be the creator of a record to fulfill a records request for it.
While Porter said the agreement was a starting point, both he and Paradis were happy after the year-plus of work.
“The Bend Police Department prides itself on working with our partners throughout the community,” Porter said. “The safety of our citizens is our highest priority. The (agreement) between the city of Bend and Central Oregon Community College is an example of this.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0376, firstname.lastname@example.org