How the Cops Got Their Guns: The History and Politics of Arming the Evergreen Police


How the Cops Got Their Guns: The History and Politics of Arming the Evergreen Police
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How The Cops Got Their Guns:
The History and Politics of Arming the Evergreen Police

The Evergreen State College (TESC) is renowned for its high
degree of political engagement amongst its students and staff. Despite
this widely acknowledged reality, a lack of institutional memory means
few current students, staff or alumni can reliably recall specific examples
of political conflict that preceded their time at the college. This piece
seeks, in a limited fashion, to begin to rectify this problem. This writing
utilizes primary and second-hand research documents obtained in the
Malcolm Stilson Archives and Special Collections at Evergreen.

The question of an armed campus police force is distinct in
Evergreen’s political history. This issue’s longevity has spanned decades,
periodically and dramatically surfacing before abruptly disappearing
from public view. Students who never knew each other nor attended
TESC together thus grappled with the very same question, over and over
again. Although TESC Police have been successful in accessing firearms
on the job, their attempts were delayed significantly by political backlash
that is historically unparalleled on the campus. Moreover, TESC Police
have continued, following a limited arming in the mid-1990s, to
advocate for further arming. The debate about an armed police force
highlights other tensions at Evergreen, from racism to the undemocratic
governance of the college.

Before Cops
For approximately 25 years TESC wasn’t home to a fully
commissioned police force. Instead, the campus hosted a team of
security guards. These guards were unarmed and relied on Thurston
County Sheriff's Department for police backup. In the late 1980s and
early 1990s, a movement to arm TESC Security burgeoned, with
pressure primarily emanating from TESC security guards themselves
and the Washington state legislature. Initially, security guard demands
for guns found little support elsewhere on the Evergreen campus,
including among the administration, though this would change later.
In Fall 1989 security guards assumed a legal approach, filing a
lawsuit with Washington Labor & Industries (L&I), alleging that without
firearms or full police powers, they were subject to unsafe working
conditions. In Sept. 1990 L&I ruled in favor of the guards and threatened
to fine TESC. The TESC administration, cognizant of student positions on
armed police and police in general, refused to arm security, instead
opting “downgrade” security, altering security's expectations and rewriting security’s Standard Operations Manual (SOP). Now security
guards could no longer directly intervene in violent interactions but
must rely on backup from Thurston County Sheriff's Dept officers.
In parallel to this, multiple bills are introduced to the state
legislature, stipulating that all state colleges host an armed police force.
As TESC was the only unarmed state college at the time, these bills were
seen as highly targeted, and garnered significant student and staff
opposition. These legislative attempts failed, with most bills paralyzed in

Limited Arming
In 1992, Evergreen hired security consulting firm, Warrington
Associates, to review its security force. The consultants deem Evergreen
security dysfunctional and recommended “limited arming.” Specifically,
Warrington Associates suggested security guards be equipped with
mace and collapsible batons, however, the report bolstered pro-gun
attitudes among security guards and set the stage for future conflicts. In
Spring 1992, building on the consultants, Interim President Les Purce
issued a “Core Recommendations” report that included arming police.
Contentious campus-hosted public meetings ensued, during which
students, faculty, staff and alumni mobilized against armed police. This
timeline roughly dovetailed with the Los Angeles riots of 1992, fueling
anti-police sentiment on the campus. This particular battle with Purce
highlighted the lack of formal student input regarding school-wide
decisions with calls for an unarmed police force mirroring and
complementing demands for student governance. Eventually Purce
conceded, claiming that police didn’t need to be armed, but that security
would be commissioned into a police department. The Board of Trustees
concurred, deciding against arming the police for the time being, but
recommissioned TESC security into the Department of Public Safety,
granting officers greater powers in the process.

Following recommissioning the question of arming didn’t arise
again for a few years. Starting in 1995, Thurston County Sheriff’s
Department intensified pressure on Evergreen to arm Public Safety;
similar calls were issued internally from TESC Public Safety. At this
point, community forums were re-organized, with similar dynamics
from the last time. Students, faculty and staff mobilized overwhelmingly
in opposition, as indicated in campus surveys and comment periods at
forums. The administration was slammed for poorly organizing and
advertising the public forums while refusing to permit a campus-wide
vote on the matter.

With pressure mounting, TESC President Jane Jervis and Vice
President of Student Affairs Art Costantino officially express support for
arming police. Students launch a more aggressive campaign, utilizing
tactics outside of established political channels. Rallies, street theater
and popular education are organized on Evergreen’s Red Square,
garnering a generally positive reception.

These efforts ultimately failed; in February 1996 the TESC Board
of Trustees voted 6-1 in favor of “limited” arming. In the immediate
aftermath of the decision, students staged the only significant direct
action in the struggle against armed campus police. Students marched
from the Library building and blockaded the main entrance to the
campus on Evergreen Parkway. Exiting traffic was permitted to pass
while incoming traffic was barred. While the action clearly harnessed
student anger and energized protesters, it concluded only about an hour
and a half after it began.

The administration swiftly sought to deflect student opposition
through the formation of a psuedo-democratic Disappearing Task Force
(DTF), charged with defining and implementing “limited arming.” DTFs
are temporary decision-making and advisory bodies frequently used at
TESC to resolve specific policy questions before “disappearing.” This
particular DTF was fraught with controversy. While many students were
denied positions in the body because they were “biased,” the DTF was
headed by none other than President Jane Jervis, herself quite biased in
favor of arming the police. The DTF selection process wasn’t democratic
but was determined in top-down fashion by Student Affairs, largely
excluding anti-gun perspectives. The DTF even closed its meetings to the
public in an act of political expediency, but the subsequent public
scrutiny compelled a reversal of this decision shortly thereafter.
In May 1996, the DTF released its policy recommendations on
arming campus police. Among these recommendations include officers
only carrying firearms through the night while stowing them in
lockboxes during the day, only drawing weapons if a suspect has already
drawn one and firing guns only in “life-threatening” situations. The
report also suggested forming a community review board to investigate
any firearm use incidents. The latter suggestion was criticized by TESC
Police Officer Larry Savage, who claimed only officers, not community
members, had the authority to define a life-threatening situation. A
month later, Jervis approved the DTF’s recommendations, including the
formation of a review board. In October 1997, limited arming was
officially inaugurated. Though the TESC administration promised to
warn students in advance of the arming date, they only notified students
24 hours prior.
The available historical record indicates that while student
resentment regarding the decision to arm police remained high, little
organized dissent persisted. A high-profile individualistic protest
occurred Oct. 30th, 1997, in which a student entered campus with a rifle
visible. The student reasoned that if police had access to weapons, so too
should students and other campus community members. This protest
received ample media attention but did not involve other students. This
lack of collective character probably weakened its effect.

The first major firearm-related incidents both involved TESC
officer Bob Bird. On two separate occasions within months in Fall 1998,
Bird drew his weapon on a maintenance worker and a student. Bird
claims he did so in a “jokingly” manner, though both the maintenance
worker and student in the two incidents felt threatened. Bird resigned in
Dec. 1998 after it became clear the officer would be terminated from the
department anyway. Bird claimed this termination would have been
“political” in nature and reported that fellow police officers and college
administrators were worried that the improper firearm use incidents
would lead to student protest and rioting.
The beginning of the 21st century was accompanied by new
challenges and controversies regarding TESC Police Services. In the Fall
Quarter of 2000, campus police were found to be violating the limited
arming guidelines. Instead, officers had been carrying weapons on their
persons throughout the day. When challenged, TESC Police Chief Steve
Hunstberry claimed that the limited arming rules were vague enough
that officers could reasonably interpret the guidelines to permit 24/7
arming. In effect then, cops were now fully armed, though it still wasn’t
the official policy of the school. This changed in 2003 when the police
union formally requested the officers be armed all day. Just months later,
in May 2003, TESC President Les Purce officially implemented 24/7
TESC Police also acquired tasers for the first time in 2001. This
angered students, but little organized opposition emerged to contest the
decision. However, the campus cop’s use of tasers during this time
period did generate ample resistance.

First Attempt to Procure Rifles
The Dead Prez or Valentine’s Day riot in 2008 was perhaps the
most notorious anti-police uprising on campus. Campus-wide discussion
of police conduct followed in the ensuing weeks. The administration held
multiple community forums to discuss the riot. On February 27th,
people staged a rally on Red Square protesting police misconduct on the
night of the concert and in other incidents.
In the Fall Quarter of 2008, Police Services proposed a $10,000
purchase of 3 rifles and protective gear. The official reasoning given was
concern about school shooters, but many speculated that the unrest of
the previous February had much more to do with it. Some felt that the
police were scared, not on behalf of students, but scared of the students
on behalf of themselves. Students criticized the “audacity” of the police
to request rifles for a potential school shooting before any lock-down
classroom procedure had been implemented. Some questioned the
timing of the proposal--PSCRB wanted all feedback by mid-January, but
official discussion did not begin until mid-December. However,
community forums about the rifle purchase ended up continuing well
into Spring Quarter.
A strong voice of dissent pervaded the tone of every forum.
Evergreen was facing a budget crisis and considering a tuition hike in
response, students wondered how there could be money to arm the
police at such a time. The PSCRB was also criticized for lacking any
student representatives until February. A petition against the purchase
was circulated by the GSU in late January. PSCRB conducted a survey
which concluded in April with overwhelming opposition from students
and faculty. In the end, the administration recognized how little support
there was for the rifle purchase among the majority of the campus and
announced in October that the rifles would not be purchased.

The era in between this failed attempt and the next and final
time the school would try to procure rifles was marked by steadfast PR
campaigning to improve relations between the student body and the
police. This was the beginning of the snack shelf that currently resides in
Police Services, when the food bank was moved there from the Health
Center in October 2009, as well as hosting a short lived PB&J station. A
student group called PASS (Police Awareness and Student Safety)
formed in 2011. Their goal was to “convince the community to welcome
and support police services,” and to these ends they: made a
documentary about “the hate that Police Services encounter at
Evergreen,” coordinated supervised student rides on newly purchased
police Segways, and helped design an Introduction to Law Enforcement
program, taught by Sgt. Tim Marron. They circulated a petition to arm
the police with assault rifles and got Q13 Fox News to interview PASS
about their petition on January 23, 2013. When the Fox News truck
parked in the bus circle, students organized a spontaneous protest
against arming cops at the site of the live interview.

Anti-Racism 2017
Given the far-right reactionary media narrative surrounding the
anti-racist groundswell at Evergreen in 2017, the confusion about the
movement from outside observers even within Olympia, and infighting
among participants, it’s hard to paint a clear picture of what exactly
went down in spring of 2017. But it is probably fair to say that hostility
towards police actions and presence on campus played a bigger role
than generally is given credit. It is perhaps a great misfortune that that
energy, which reached a critical mass unlike anything since the Dead
Prez riot or possibly ever, was not more successfully pinpointed against
the militarization of the Evergreen police.
The conclusion of Andre Thompson and Bryson Chaplain’s trial
on May 18th, which found the brothers guilty, loomed large over racial
tensions that had been mounting on campus all year, and would come to
a head that very month. At the infamous library barricade on May 24th,
2017, students presented George Bridges a long list of demands, of
which about ten percent were concerned with TESC police. They called
for Police Services to sell all their lethal and less than lethal weapons,
and for TESC to cease the expansion of the police force, instead creating
a student collective to develop and implement an alternative to policing.
President George Bridges acquiesced in some ways to some of the other
demands, but flat out refused to ever disarm or disband the police. He
faced harsh criticism for it, but there was a lack of persistence in
organizing the manifestation of these demands, as students were swept
up in the chaos of the campus becoming a sensationalized topic on a
national scale and a dangerous target for both on and offline violence in
a matter of days. In fact, Bridges took the opportunity to do the very
opposite of students’ wishes about the police.

TESCPS Get Rifles


On August 1st of 2017, then Director of Police Services Stacy
Brown sent an email request to Bridges for the purchase of five semiautomatic AR-15 rifles. Bridges approved her request in two weeks later.
The following November the school purchased seven Colt LE6920 AR-15
rifles. This was all done under the table. No students or faculty were
consulted as they had been in the past, not even the Vice President of
Student Affairs, Wendy Endress, who oversaw Police Services at the
time. Students were not even made aware of the purchase until October
of 2018, when the Cooper Point Journal obtained the emails in a public
records request and published the story. The lesson that the
administration had learned was clear: transparency and democracy
stand in the way of militarizing the police. It was perfectly obvious what
the verdict would be if they opened the question to student input, so
they did away with such pesky protocols.
When this news finally broke, people were angry but not entirely
surprised. Many had suspected that far-right aggression towards the
school in 2017 would provide justification to implement further
militarization which had never stopped being pushed, and indeed the
New Jersey man who had called Thurston County Sheriffs and
threatened to shoot up the campus back in May is usually thrown out
among the excuses offered by the administration.
Stacy Brown’s email contained a number of other requests that
Bridges granted, including two new full-time equivalent police officers,
crowd control equipment, purchase of a subscription to a policy manual
updater called Lexipol, more cameras around campus, new door-locking
systems and alarms, modernized radio infrastructure, transition of
vehicles to leases, and new laptops. However, the state only approved
about a third of the request for necessary funding. There was some
organized resistance to the school’s attempts to fulfill these requests and
hostility toward those that had already been fulfilled, including the rifles,
fueled these demonstrations, but ultimately it is unclear what effect, if
any, this had on the changes being made.

Faced with rapid escalation and expansion of the campus police
force, it’s important to remember that things weren’t always like this.
Students have never wavered from or been unclear about their desire to
end armed policing. Every upgrade of police strength has required an
equivalent degree of targeted political exclusion by the administration.
This reached an unprecedented extreme with the purchase of rifles in
Evergreeners have been writing this history in Disorientation
manuals since 1998. Now more than ever this information needs to be
passed on. The college relies on the transient nature of student life to
interrupt communication within a continuous opposition. We must learn
from the past to formulate dynamic resistance, but first we must