By Associated Press • 

Prosecutor threatens community college over campus security

BEND — A central Oregon prosecutor has accused community college public safety officers of illegally acting as police and is threatening the school with criminal prosecution if the behavior doesn't stop.

Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel has threatened criminal action against Central Oregon Community College because of the public safety officers’ actions, The Bulletin reported Tuesday.

The college, Hummel and Bend Police Chief Jim Porter have been discussing the distinction between campus security and police officers since 2015 when public safety staff investigated an iPhone belonging to a college employee that was found in a bathroom soap dispenser.

Those conversations heated up after then-COCC public safety officer Edwin Lara was charged with the kidnapping and murder of Kaylee Sawyer in July.

“We have a disagreement on what the definition of a police officer is under Oregon supervised statutes between us and them, and how narrowly defined those roles are for their public safety people, as we read it,” Porter said. “As I understand (state law) and how the district attorney understands (state law) is in conflict with how their attorneys understand it.”

Hummel has said that under Oregon law, community colleges cannot establish a campus police department in the way public universities can. He said that at most, public safety officers on campus can rely on the citizen arrest statute, giving them the same power as students on campus.

“COCC is on shaky legal ground in relying on the citizen arrest statute to perform the type of policing activities they engage in,” Hummel said in his analysis.

The school's website says differently. According to the website, COCC officers have state-granted authority to “enforce all college regulations and rules and most federal, state, city and county laws and ordinances on college property.”

Hummel, Porter and the school have communicated through correspondence and at least one phone conversation. The three parties are set to meet Tuesday to work toward a memorandum of understanding that outlines authority and responsibility for policing crimes committed on COCC property.

Despite their work to come to an agreement, school officials continue to deny any wrongdoing.

“With many cases, it's not a black-and-white answer as to what authority they do have,” COCC spokesman Ron Paradis said of public safety officers. “They have authority to act upon the college's directive in helping keep the campus safe, and how that gets interpreted is not specified by law in many instances.”

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Information from: The Bulletin, http://www.bendbulletin.com

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