OHSU task force recommends guns for public safety officers

Ginny Burdick

Ginny Burdick

From the Portland Tribune, November 19 2008

Allowing hospital officers to carry guns would require state law change

An Oregon Health & Science University task force is recommending that university officials pursue a change in state law to allow some of OHSU’s public safety officers to carry guns.

Local mental health advocacy organizations had come out against the idea of having armed public safety officers at OHSU. They fear psychiatric patients will become agitated at seeing guns at the hospital, or that an officer with a gun will eventually shoot an out-of-control psychiatric patient.

But state senator Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, chairwoman of the task force, said the group’s consensus was that safety officers with guns were needed in the event of a possible mass shooting at the medical center and university campus, on Marquam Hill just south of downtown Portland.

Arming public safety officers at OHSU with guns would require a change in state law. Currently, state law that authorizes OHSU allows public safety officers to make arrests as long as they don’t carry guns. The OHSU officers carry Taser stun guns.

The OHSU proposal would have a smaller number of the overall public safety force – possibly a third of the 35 officers – go through police academy training.

That, Burdick said, would include crisis intervention training, a special program that teaches officers techniques to use in dealing with people suffering acute mental illness.

In the wake of the death of James Chasse, a 42-year-old Portland man suffering schizophrenia who died after being arrested by Portland police two years ago, all Portland police officers have been given crisis intervention training.

The OHSU task force recommendation, Burdick said, was primarily based on concerns that if a mass shooter – such as the gunmen who’ve shot numbers of people on college campuses during the last decade – were to attack at OHSU, armed Portland police officers would take at least 15 minutes before they could arrive and deploy on the OHSU Marquam Hill campus.

The task force is expected to send its recommendation on to university president Joe Robertson by next week. If Robertson and the university board of directors agree with the recommendation, the university likely will seek to have state law changed to accommodate the new policy, OHSU officials have said.