Reed Agreement with Portland Police Bureau Not Renewed Since 2018

In 2021, Reed entered its third year without an official agreement with the Portland Police Bureau (PPB). It’s important to discuss what connotations this has for campus life at Reed, as well as how the creation and dissolution of the agreement relates to the nature of Reed’s perceived “drug culture.”

From 2009 to 2018, Reed College Community Safety and PPB were both signatories to a memorandum of understanding (MOU) partnership agreement. Whilst not legally binding, the agreement served the purpose of “[f]ostering clearer communication between the college administration and the Portland Police Bureau” as well as to “anticipate and overcome action between the college and the police,” as written in the partnership agreement. Although the agreement had several iterations throughout the decade, this article will highlight some important aspects for the student body.  In many ways, the agreements limited the circumstances in which PPB could enter campus. 

Under the partnership agreement, PPB could only enter campus for cases such as felony drug possession (later updated to possession of controlled substances with the intent to distribute), felony weapons possession, or to conduct “sensitive and confidential investigations.” This means that misdemeanours such as underage drinking or drug possession were to be exclusively handled by Community Safety and the college’s judicial process. Without the agreement, PPB can functionally come on to campus and bust students for possession or whatever else they want. 

It’s important to note, however, that both Reed and PPB are in very different positions than they were in 2009 when the first partnership agreement was signed. In 2009, Reed was in the wake of its second heroin overdose death in two years. After these incidents, PPB was making a concerted effort to target Reed’s “drug culture,” even sending undercover police officers to Renn Fayre in 2009. At the time, it seemed like a public relations necessity to establish a working relationship with PPB, and hopefully to limit their involvement with on-campus activity.

However, according to Director of Community Safety Gary Granger, after years of declining hard drug use at the college, increasing scrutiny of police action around the nation, and new Reed leadership, it no longer seemed necessary for the college to have a contractual relationship with PPB. That still leaves us with the question, can and will the police come onto campus in regard to misdemeanor crimes? Whilst they certainly could, an article published by Katu in November 2021 reported that PPB is currently critically understaffed. With an increase in crime and 911 calls as well as officer resignations in the pandemic era, PPB barely has enough officers to respond to reports of violent crime, let alone drug offences. The decriminalization of drugs in Oregon notwithstanding, it is highly unlikely that PPB would send officers to Reed for any non-violent incidents. Director of Community Safety Gary Granger said that the main potential grey area without the agreement pertains to circumstances where a student is caught in possession of various illicit substances and possible intent to sell.

 “Under the MOU [partnership agreement] I would have called the police, and I would have said, ‘Here’s what I have discovered. Are you interested in pursuing this case?’” Granger said. “Today if I found the same exact thing, I would not be under an agreement that said, ‘I should call them.’ That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t, and it doesn’t mean I would. It would be something we decide ad hoc.” As of now, Granger said the college has no intention of renewing an agreement between Community Safety and PPB.

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