By Laura Craska Cooper

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The safety of students, staff and visitors is critically important to Central Oregon Community College. It is our practice, and our commitment, to work in partnership with local law enforcement agencies as we evaluate and enhance our Campus Public Safety program. Over the past several years, COCC has worked diligently and proactively with the Bend Police Department to understand concerns and implement suggestions. Unfortunately, our efforts have been misrepresented by inaccurate statements, including the omission of important facts, made to the public and to the Oregon Legislature. We believe it’s time to speak up and tell our story.

While the college’s public safety practices exceed what the law requires, we nonetheless continuously seek out and consider the expertise and guidance of local law enforcement. We have taken many steps to strengthen our relationships, including initiating and voluntarily entering into a Memorandum of Understanding in 2017 with the City of Bend.

The MOU calls for “open communication, mutual respect and a commitment to fair and equitable collaboration.” COCC has worked transparently and in good faith to uphold the MOU, taking decisive action on a number of changes. These include:

The campus patrol vehicle equipped with a partition between the front and back seat is no longer in use (July 2016).

Campus Public Safety Officers have been instructed not to:

make private persons arrests (January 2017);

carry handcuffs (January 2017); or initiate vehicle stops (June 2018).

Campus Public Safety Officers began wearing new uniforms purchased by the College after consultation with and approval from the Bend Police Department and the Deschutes County District Attorney (September 2017).

Campus patrol vehicles have been redesigned to include the COCC mascot and other college branding (September 2017).

Campus patrol vehicles are no longer equipped with blue lights (September 2017).

A Campus Safety Work Group – which included Bend Police Chief Jim Porter — was created by the College and has made recommendations for enhancing our campus communities (October 2018).

All push bars have been removed from campus patrol vehicles (January-March 2019).

We are working with the Bend Police Department to explore adding a College Resource Officer.

In addition, we continue our long-standing practice of Campus Public Safety Officers receiving up to 400 hours of initial in-house training. Many attend an 80-hour basic campus law enforcement academy; all are trained in CPR, AED and First Aid; and most are Crisis Intervention Team trained. Along with background checks, all officers must be certified by the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, which requires a personal history statement and fingerprint/criminal history check.

Protecting the campus communities we serve requires a delicate balance between creating an open and inviting environment and providing safety and security against growing threats.

On Oct. 1, 2015, our neighboring Umpqua Community College in Roseburg experienced the deadliest mass shooting in Oregon’s modern history. Eight students and an assistant professor lost their lives, and eight more students were injured. We are, and we must be, proactive in seeking out ways to improve campus safety. That’s why we monitor best practices at campuses nationwide and work closely with the Governor’s Task Force on Campus Safety and the Oregon College and University Public Safety Administrators Association.

Unfortunately, our diligent and successful efforts to cooperate with local law enforcement, including numerous meetings, countless conversations and multiple agreements, have not always been publicly acknowledged. There is still work to be done, and we know we cannot do it without trusted support and transparency from our local law enforcement partners. We are committed to this work and cooperation. We hope for the same from our community partners.

COCC has a 70-year legacy of improving the lives of students and the face of Central Oregon for the better. We intend to build on that for the next 70 years for the benefit of our students, faculty, staff, visitors, neighbors and the communities we serve.

— Laura Craska Cooper is board chair of Central Oregon Community College’s board.