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C.O. officials, family testify for Kaylee’s Law in Salem


“Kaylee’s Law” took another step toward passage Wednesday in Salem as the family of Bend murder victim Kaylee Sawyer joined Central Oregon officials and others who testified before a Senate panel in support of a measure to strongly limit the appearance and actions of community college security personnel.

The Oregon Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Senate Bill 576, a measure proposed in response to the murder of Kaylee Sawyer nearly two years ago by former Central Oregon Community College security guard Edwin Lara.

Among those who testified in favor of the bill were Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel, Bend Police Chief Jim Porter and state Rep. Cheri Helt, R-Bend, as well as Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum.

They and others are trying to change and clarify state law, by limiting or eliminating the similarities in uniforms, police cars and presumed powers to detain or “stop and frisk” — steps they believe would reduce the threat of another violent tragedy.

If passed, the measure would require significant steps to prevent any confusion between campus safety officers and police officers.

Advocates of Kaylee’s Law want campus safety officers to have less power that can be abused, and stronger background checks for community college personnel.

The proposed steps include elimination of ‘stop-and-frisk’ abilities, no more blue and red lights or on campus safety vehicles, while adding GPS devices and dash cams to those vehicles, as well as requiring different uniforms from those of Oregon police departments and the removal of the “cage” (divider) separating the driver seat from the back of the campus security cars.

Kaylee’s stepmother, Crystal Sawyer, told lawmakers about the horrible night they learned she had gone through.

“The college employee put her in the back of his college patrol SUV. This had a cage, like the ones used to restrain criminals, and internal locks so Kaylee could not escape.

“Once he had her in his control, he propositioned her for sex. Kaylee began to scream for help and kept screaming for anyone to be her hero. Here is our strong-willed girl, fighting for her life in this instant in a patrol car, locked in a cage with nobody, alone with the employee of this college.”

There was some testimony in favor of keeping some facets of current security patrols being targeted by the bill.

Eric Wood, the student body executive vice president at Corban University in Salem, said his campus security providers often transport suicidal people to an off-site facility, such as a clinic. In such cases, he called it a valid use of dividers in campus security patrol cars.

“The situation is a question of removing those ‘cages’ — taxis have cages. These are particular to our community because they provide safety to the campus security officer, as well as the student life employee, as well as the student they are transporting,” Wood said.

“Not to mention our campus and a lot of campuses don’t have detention centers, by any means. The only place they can hold students is in the back of their car.”

Wood said these concerns have made students at Corban who have read the bill feel they would be left unsafe, if the dividers were removed.

Isaac Helland, a campus security officer at Corban, said the last time they had to wait for Salem police to arrive, it took a half-hour. He testified to the importance of having a place to detain a criminal until police arrive.

Jim Bouziane, president of the Oregon College and University Public Safety Administrators Association acknowleged in written testimony “The perpetrator used tools designed for legitimate, safe and appropriate uses to perpetrate his crime.” But he added, “We are not aware of any other incidents in the state of Oregon involving campus public safety and security officers. ”

Kaylee Sawyers’ father, Jamie Sawyer, said he sees it another way.

“I would ask you, members of the committee: Is Kaylee’s life, or the life of another, not worth making these changes? That it’s just too difficult, too expensive or wouldn’t have made any difference in her horrendous torture and murder?” he asked.

“I don’t want you to hear Kaylee’s voice in this story. I want you to hear her screaming, fighting or her life, wearing nothing but her dress, bare feet — and no way to escape. This could have been anyone’s daughter.”

Bend Police Chief Jim Porter said they’ve made several attempts to work with COCC to resolve their issues with campus security, which go well beyond their similar appearance to police but to numerous failures to report crimes to the city police force or their trying to investigate crimes on their own.

“What is important here is in the Kaylee situation is that we’ve tried on a local solution on this. I’ve worked diligently with the college, and the continuing theme I hear from the community college and from their attorneys is, ‘The law does not say we have to do that,’ and ‘T he law does not say we can’t do that,’ when it comes to acting as police officers.”

Rather than “step back” in the wake of Sawyer’s murder, Porter claimed, the college has ‘doubled down” in terms of new cars and uniforms that look much like police officers, and investigating serious criminal allegations without notifying his agency — even stopping and searching people and holding seized drugs in the security office, “for which :they had no lawful authority.”

In one case that went on for close to two years of a stalker on campus, Porter alleged the COCC security force was “trying to catch (the suspect) in the act, rather than notify us, because they couldn’t make a probable cause arrest” — which only law enforcement can legally do — “only a citizens arrest,” which he said has not been proven in court.

Hummel said he values the college and its public safety office, but that he believes college officials are flat-out wrong when they say current law is unclear.

“But Kaylee’s Law makes it clear — makes it less likely there’ll be another victim” like Kaylee Sawyer, the district attorney said.

But B ouziane of the campus public safety group wrote, “This proposed legislation is contrary to national practices and sets Oregon to be the state rolling back deterrence and prevention efforts, when the national focus is on creating safer campuses.”

Despite that, state Sen.Tim Knopp, R-Bend, a chief sponsor of the bill, told NewsChannel 21 he’s confident the legislation will become law.

” We have a bipartisan, bicameral bill that I believe will pass,” he said. There will be some technical amendments, but the bill will be similar to what it is now.”

” We are working to make sure that our students are protected and Kaylee’s life is honored through passing this bill that will help make sure what happened to Kaylee doesn’t happen again,” Knopp said.

For more about the bill, Wednesday’s testimony and the hearing recording, visit:

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