BEND, OR -- The Central Oregon Community College Board Chair is going straight to the public to talk campus safety. The school’s most recent newsletter includes a personal message addressed to “COCC Friends and Neighbors,” from Laura Craska Cooper. She tells KBND News, "There have been statements that COCC has not been cooperative with law enforcement officials and that COCC has not made requested changes. That’s not accurate. There have been a number of ways that we’ve cooperated and made changes to reflect suggestions we’ve received from coordinating our partner law enforcement agencies." She adds, "But, I think that maybe that message has not always gotten out in maybe the last six months, in statements made to the Legislature and in statements made in public." She says those changes include redesigning campus patrol vehicles and prohibiting campus security from initiating arrests or traffic stops.
Craska Cooper says COCC also purchased new public safety uniforms in September 2017, with approval from Bend Police Chief Jim Porter, who serves on COCC's Campus Public Safety Working Group. Chief Porter tells KBND News he only approved a new color scheme, and he remains concerned about the style, which resembles uniforms worn by sworn police. Craska Cooper disagrees, "He did indicate that they were okay. He met with our lawyer and also former Senator Neil Bryant was in the room, and they both confirmed that he did approve them. I think there might have been some confusion over what he was approving. He may not have thought he was approving the whole uniforms; but that’s certainly what both of them believed." But, she says, talks are ongoing, "We are going to continue to look at uniforms and we will change the uniforms." For more on changes COCC says it's made in the past three years, click HERE.
Chief Porter and Craska Cooper are working on a joint resolution that would bring a Bend Police officer to the school, as a sort of liaison between campus public safety and Bend PD. Craska Cooper says, "What the police chief and I have talked about, with Dr. Metcalf, is the campus resource officer would be on our campus very much in the same way they as they are on K-12 campuses. And, they would work with our campus public safety, would be a full time officer who would be on campus on a daily basis when classes are in session, and would coordinate communication with the campus public safety." The board is expected to vote on that agreement, next month. We are all working collaboratively and we all have the same goal: We want a safe community on campus and off campus and we think that it’s in the best interest of the community if we’re all on the same page."
Oregon’s Senate is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a bill named for a woman murdered by a COCC public safety officer in July 2016. Kaylee’s Law would create more specific guidelines for community college campus safety agencies. The bill is sponsored by Bend Senator Tim Knopp and supported by Bend’s Police Chief and Deschutes County’s District Attorney. Craska Cooper admits Community college campus safety departments fall into a gray area under current law, "There’s not as much of clarity in the statute, with respect to community colleges, as there is with respect to four-year institutions. And so, we at COCC, are very much in favor of anything that’s going to provide a little bit more clarity; and, of course, we will comply with the law." She adds, "The important thing to us is any clarity that can be provided, any guidance and anything that’ll make campuses safer, we are in favor of." While the bill is in direct response to the murder at COCC, school officials chose not to testify during committee hearings for the legislation.
Investigators believe Kaylee Sawyer trusted her killer because he looked like a police officer. He then trapped her in his COCC patrol car, which was outfitted with a partition called a “cage.” Those partitions are no longer used at COCC.
UPDATE (11:45 a.m.): The Oregon Senate unanimously passed Kaylee's Law; it now moves to the House.
Above: File Photo
Upper Right: Laura Craska Cooper's letter was emailed to the community April 19, 2019.