Central Oregon Community College hires a new director of campus safety who has a big job of restoring trust in the agency.
Seven years ago, a COCC security officer kidnapped and killed a student prompting new laws that dictate what campus security personnel can and can’t do.
Cory Darling’s 35-years of law enforcement experience started on the COCC campus where he earned an associate’s degree. From there he picked up a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and graduated from the FBI’s National Academy. He served on the Central Oregon Emergency Response SWAT team for 16 years. Most recently, he served four years as chief of the Sunriver Police Department.
“We are a safety agency. We are not law enforcement. We have really good law enforcement partners within central Oregon to provide that resource for us,” Darling said.
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In July 2016, COCC security officer Edwin Lara offered student Kaylee Sawyer a ride across campus in a patrol vehicle.
Lara kidnapped, assaulted and killed Sawyer, and then went on a kidnapping and killing spree through western Oregon and northern California.
“The Kaylee Sawyer incident was tragic and horrific. We will never have a department that feels like a police department,” Darling said. “We want to work with our law enforcement partners. We want to employ good people to work for us which means that our interview process, our background investigation, providing psychological examinations to those candidates before they come to work for us. Make sure that we have the right people, the quality people to work in our environment. I believe that’s going to keep our campuses safe.”
Since Kaylee Sawyer’s death, COCC’s campus safety department has shrunk to a staff of one who focuses on testing fire alarms and emergency response systems.
“Recently we undertook a project with the Bend Fire Marshal to make sure our Bend and Redmond campus way-finding signage was up to code,” said Jen Kovitz, the college’s director of marketing. “In an emergency, when we have first responders on the scene, so they can get to the right building quickly.”
Darling says he will implement Kaylee’s Law that requires campus safety staff undergo criminal background checks and makes clear they do not have “stop and frisk” authority.
Campus safety vehicles must be GPS equipped and have video cameras to record what happens inside.
Campus safety vehicles must be clearly marked, not use red or blue light bars, and can’t have bumpers for pushing other vehicles.
Campus safety officers must wear uniforms that bear no resemblance to law enforcement uniforms.
“We are doing a needs assessment, meeting with faculty, staff and students to get a better sense of what they want. Then we’ll expand our work force based on those recommendations so we can fulfill those needs, not only here in Bend but at the Prineville, Madras and Redmond campuses as well,” Darling said.
Darling expects to have results of the needs assessment by mid-summer, after which additional staff can be hired under updated campus safety standards.
You can read the COCC Campus Safety Review, prepared in February 2022, below.