DPS struggles to train officers
Lax state laws and years of discouraging leadership created a department where
By Ryan Knutson
If you want to style hair in Oregon, state law mandates that you must complete 1,450 hours of training.
If you want to be a nursing home administrator, you must complete 960 hours of training in order to get a state license.
But if you want to work as a campus safety officer at an Oregon college, the law says you don’t need any.
The only state requirements for campus safety officer training are that the State Board of Higher Education pays for it and that the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training administers it. Those efforts often add up to 240 training hours before campus officers hit the streets.
Nonetheless, it’s not enough.
An Emerald investigation has found that years of lax regulations and minimal state support created a culture where Department of Public Safety officers either found training themselves after their initial academy, sometimes paying for it out of their own pockets – or went untrained.
While two top DPS officials spent more than $3,300 in training money on a parking and golfing conference in Florida, other officers were denied mental health training when they requested it this summer.
Newly hired officers faced other training roadblocks when the state training agency in Salem didn’t offer its six-week training course – a course often criticized for being too truncated – for at least two years. Criminal defense attorneys who have dealt with DPS officers told the Emerald they thought officers had a lack of understanding about procedural law.
Kevin Williams, the department’s new director who was hired in August, says he is committed to changing the department’s old habits, pressuring the state to provide more training opportunities and getting the training officers need.
“No matter what this department ends up being, it’s going to be 10 times better than what it was,” he said.
Under Williams’ leadership, DPS officers were sent in March to training with Lane County Mental Health. He’s met with Pam Farmer, a newly hired University training organizer, and he met with DPS directors from other Oregon universities last Friday to address how best to train the state’s campus safety officers.
“The status quo is unsatisfactory to me,” he said.
Little training required
When DPS Officer Royce Myers was hired at the University nine years ago, he was baffled at how under prepared he was – and at how little the University did to ensure he was ready.
“I went (to the state’s campus safety academy), came back, and they gave me a uniform, a badge, my duty belt, a baton and pepper spray,” he said. “They said, ‘You’re responsible for the south side of campus and locking all the buildings up.’ That was it.”
Since he was hired, Myers has completed 527 hours of independent training, according to state records. Myers said that number would be closer to 1,000 hours if those records were kept up-to-date.
“The situation was so ridiculous that I didn’t even know we had a student conduct code until much later,” Myers said. “I essentially had to train myself for the better part of the first year I was here.”
State law says that the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training must train campus safety officers, but the law leaves how they are trained up to the discretion of that agency. The agency, which is the same one that trains police officers during a 16-week course, trains campus officers in six weeks.
But “nothing says we have to offer that six-week academy,” said Eriks Gabliks, DPSST deputy director.
The discretion provided in the law allowed DPSST to simply not offer its campus safety training academy in 2005 and 2006, despite there being officers around the state who needed to attend, including two from the University of Oregon. Those two officers were eventually trained at a Police Reserve Academy at Umpqua Community College.
But even when DPSST does offer its campus officer training, some officers say it’s inadequate.
“Even if you took out (firearm and driving pursuit training), you don’t go from 16 weeks to six,” Williams said, referring to the major differences between police academy and campus safety training. “I think six is insufficient.”
But it has improved, officers say.
For example, in 1999, the campus training academy was five weeks long and spent just four hours teaching campus safety officers how to deal with mental health issues. Now the training is six weeks and dedicates 12 hours to dealing with mental health issues.
Around 2002, Myers and other officers helped establish a Field Training Evaluation Program at the University to ease new officers into the job and ensure they are prepared. New officers must complete up to 17 weeks of the program, during the first part of which they are not allowed to patrol campus without a senior officer.
But once officers finish preliminary training, there are no policies, state mandates or annual training schedules outside of CPR or hazardous waste training to require they stay up-to-date.
“The problem you run into when you do not have a developed training curriculum scheduled for regular in-service training is officers do not employ certain skills on any regular basis and do not have a chance to refresh those skills,” Myers said.
Myers emphasized that he is not speaking on behalf of DPS management, and that he feels confident that new DPS director Williams’ leadership will improve the department.
All DPS officers contacted for this story said they wanted more training. Yet in the past, the primary way they could ensure that was to make a training request through DPS administrators or pay for it out-of-pocket.
“We are the only state that doesn’t require a minimum amount of training for our (campus safety) officers,” said Mike Silver, the union representative for campus safety officers. “I really don’t understand why.”
The absent requirements create drastic variations in how much training officers seek, training records show.
For instance, Lonnie Ekstrom, who served as a police officer and a deputy sheriff in eastern Oregon in the late 1970s and early 1980s, has logged more than 1,700 hours of training.
DPS officer Robert Abbott, on the other hand, has logged only 94 training hours in 24 years of service at DPS, state DPSST records show.
But state records are often inaccurate because they don’t always include training officers seek outside of DPSST programs.
The Emerald requested training records from DPS, but was told by University spokeswoman Julie Brown that they are not kept up-to-date.
The absence of updated training records can create liability problems if DPS is ever sued for mishandling an incident.
“It’s important to memorialize training records in the event that there is litigation involving the adequacy of training provided to the officers,” Eugene criminal defense lawyer Michael Arnold said. “If records proving that training occurred do not exist, then the inference can be made that the training did not occur.”
Williams said DPS is taking steps to ensure training records are properly kept.
A discouraging past
The former interim director of DPS, Richard Turkiewicz, told three officers last summer they couldn’t attend a $120 training session on finding non-violent resolutions to encounters with people with mental health issues.
He told three others they couldn’t attend a similar session that cost $60. Even though three of those officers were going to attend the training on their days off, Turkiewicz wrote on their request forms that they couldn’t go because the “campus activity level (would be) high” during the time of their absence.
But Turkiewicz approved spending $1,826.50 on himself and $1,554.99 for another manager to attend a four-day parking and golfing conference in Tampa, Fla. in May 2007.
Turkiewicz flew into and departed from Orlando, Fla., and he spent six extra days there after the conference ended. He attempted to charge the University $169.08 so he could rent a car, although that expense was denied by employees in the University Business Affairs Office. The Emerald obtained this information using Oregon’s Public Records Law.
Turkiewicz lived near Orlando for at least 18 years while he worked as the police chief at the University of Central Florida prior to coming to the University of Oregon. Turkiewicz told his officers he needed to attend the training so he could introduce DPS’ new parking manager Ken Boegli to important professionals in the field.
“I will be bringing with me our Parking Services Director, Ken Boegle (sic), with me as I would like to introduce him to you all!” Turkiewicz wrote in an e-mail to a friend at Walker Parking Associates in Florida. “I will probably just be doing the vendor area and possibly the awards luncheon to of course cheer Walker on as they sweep the competition again!”
Turkiewicz, who no longer works at the University, could not be reached for comment.
Frances Dyke, vice president for finance and administration, approved Turkiewicz’s trip. She declined to comment on the trip or Turkiewicz’s need for attending, but did say that “directors can’t neglect their own professional development because they won’t stay cutting edge if they do.”
Working with the consequences
DPS Officer Myers recalled patrolling campus one night several years ago and finding a small group of people sleeping in bushes near the school of music.
He found that one of the men had a warrant for his arrest, but the man didn’t seem to listen when Myers spoke. His eyes darted around, rarely blinking. He mumbled to himself.
Meth use, Myers thought. Only later did he learn that the man wasn’t on meth; he was schizophrenic.
Myers hadn’t been trained on mental health issues. Department leaders didn’t require it or encourage it.
“There are many things that can go very, very wrong if you are unable to distinguish mental illness or mental disability from illegal drug use,” Myers said. “I’m very fortunate that nothing went sideways during the contact I had.” Myers was startled by his lack of knowledge, and on his own pursued mental health training. He shared what he learned with other officers, he said.
But Myers was one of only two officers to acquire mental health training in nearly a decade, training records show.
When DPS officer Scott Cameron sought mental health training last July, Turkiewicz denied his request.
“There are a lot of trainings that I put in for that I get denied,” he said. “There are a lot of things that get denied that I can’t go to because I’m not allowed because I’m not a police officer, or because we’re so woefully understaffed.”
Most officers, whether they are police or campus safety, will say they don’t have all the training they need, he said.
Cameron, who said he spends roughly $300 a year on training for himself, thinks there should be more funding for training and that Oregon colleges should be allowed to create police departments, which would allow officers access to the full training that police have.
Cameron said if he were a current student, “I would be screaming, ‘Why is this happening? Why is this school, or the Oregon University System, not jumping up to protect our young minds?'”
Doing something about it
Campus safety officer and union representative Silver has been advocating for more training for campus officers ever since he became one five years ago.
Most recently, Silver endorsed legislation that would have established an Oregon University System-wide police agency that would require all campus safety officers to complete a full police academy and meet annual training requirements in the same way sworn officers do.
The bill swept through the House but didn’t pass in the Senate.
“I wish this was a state where departments of public safety have access to the full range of training” that regular police officers do, Williams said.
Creating a University of Oregon police department would require that public safety officers complete regular police academy. They wouldn’t become officers overnight, rather, they would undergo more scrutiny, Williams said.
Earlier this year, the University made a similar push toward changing the state law that says universities cannot have sworn officers. That effort failed with the State Board of Higher Education. Board President Kirby Dyess said the changes would be too expensive for the cash-strapped university system.
“I think all of us kind of need to look back for a moment and ask what’s really important,” Dyess said. “And I think student education comes first.”