Central Oregon Community College is likely the only Oregon college in compliance with the newly passed “Kaylee’s Law,” according to school officials.
The irony is the law wouldn’t exist were it not for COCC’s prior campus safety policies, which police have said contributed to the rape and murder of COCC student Kaylee Sawyer by a campus security guard in 2016.
The campus safety office has added new “highlighter-yellow” vests, improved record-keeping practices and instructed personnel to not carry handcuffs or make arrests. And coming this fall, a Bend Police Department officer will be stationed in the office much like school resource officers patrol the area’s public high schools.
All this has been noticed by Bend’s once-critical police chief.
“In all areas of our discussions, significant progress has been achieved over the last six months,” said Chief Jim Porter. “While there is disagreement on some but not all of the issues … since January of this year COCC has actively engaged in complying with many of the elements of Kaylee’s Law even before the passage of the bill.”
This spring in Salem, Senate Bill 576, known as Kaylee’s Law, passed both houses of Oregon’s Legislature with wide bipartisan support. The law is intended to ensure the public can distinguish campus officers from traditional law enforcement. Its many requirements include ensuring that uniforms, equipment and vehicles of campus officers have a nonpolice appearance. Vehicles must have either GPS, an interior video camera or dispatch system that is recorded. Campus officers would be barred from making vehicle stops or having “stop and frisk” authority of individuals. It also requires strict background checks and psychological testing be done prior to hiring an officer.
Gov. Kate Brown signed the bill May 24.
The bill garnered only the scantest of opposition. A pair of campus security guards, not connected to COCC, testified against what they saw as unfair criticism of campus security forces. COCC officials were largely mum.
At the time of the bill’s passage, COCC was only two steps away from full compliance, according to school spokesman Ron Paradis. Those two areas have since been addressed — repainting the hoods of several campus security vehicles, and reprogramming the vehicle overhead lights to shine yellow.
With a total enrollment of more than 15,000 and a 200-acre main campus in Bend, COCC is one of Oregon’s largest two-year colleges. From May 2017 to April 2018, campus security responded to 322 “incidents,” a figure that includes everything from alcohol violations to broken windows, medical emergencies, graffiti and informational reports.
Late on a summer night in 2016, Sawyer, 23, was walking near her apartment just off the COCC campus when she was approached by a security guard. She was intoxicated, and it’s thought this was known by her killer, Edwin Lara, who was wearing a COCC security uniform resembling an official police uniform and driving a campus security SUV with a partition separating the back and front seats. He offered her a ride.
Lara later confessed to holding Sawyer in the back of the vehicle, where she couldn’t escape, and driving to a secluded location where he raped and killed her. Her body was later found in a ravine between Sisters and Redmond.
Several of the steps required by Kaylee’s Law relate to things Lara did that night. Police and prosecutors have said Lara would not have been able to do what he did without Sawyer’s trust, created because he looked like a police officer. COCC security guards at the time of Sawyer’s murder also performed private-person arrests and were permitted to handcuff and detain subjects.
Porter last year angrily called for COCC to change, citing poor record-keeping practices and a vigilante attitude.
In January 2017, the school instructed its officers to stop making arrests. Later that year, the school ditched blue, law enforcement-style lights on its vehicles and moved to a new uniform featuring a gray polo shirt.
In April 2018, the school hired as its campus security director Peter Ostrovsky, a 30-year veteran of law enforcement and the 1990s drug war whose résumé includes stints at the U.S. Customs Service, the U.S. Embassy in London and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Ostrovsky said he’s learning to slow down in his new role.
“In my prior career in federal law enforcement, we did things with great speed because we were dealing with high-threat situations. But here, I think I’ve learned to be a little bit more deliberate and considerate and give myself more time. Perhaps, before, I was giving myself too much pressure.”
Ostrovsky said he wished Kaylee’s Law included a training component, so all campus security officers in Oregon had the same training background. As it stands, there is no standard, though the state police academy offers training. (COCC officers are required to have at least 400 hours of in-house training.)
But Ostrovsky said his experience with Homeland Security has proved helpful in his new job, notably at last week’s commencement ceremony. Wary of a mass-casualty attack involving a vehicle, Ostrovsky positioned vehicles at points where a vehicle could access the event at Mazama Field.
“We’re reading about it all the time in the news,” he said. “Schools are considered soft targets. Any location where large amounts of people gather are targets.”
Beyond that, Ostrovsky’s officers, sporting their new high-viz vests, were easy to pick out for wayfinding purposes, said school spokesman Paradis.
The most recent security-related change at COCC has been the removal of push bars from the front of all five campus security vehicles. Ostrovsky said it was thought the bars — large, reinforced bumpers — could prove helpful pushing stuck cars following a heavy snowfall. But after this February’s historic dumping, they didn’t use the push bars once.
“It was shovels and tow straps and straightening vehicles by hand. So we took them off. It just didn’t make sense to have something we weren’t going to use.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0325, firstname.lastname@example.org . Bulletin reporter Gary Warner contributed to this article.